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MEISNER 


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SANFORD  MEISNER 


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DENNIS  LONGWELL 

INTRODUCTION  BY  SYDNEY  POLLACK 


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VINTAGE  BOOKS 
A  DIVISION  OF  RANDOM  HOUSE  NEW  YORK 


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A  Vintage  Original,  August  1987 
First  Edition 

Copyright  ©  1987  by  Sanford  Meisner  and 
Dennis  Longwell 

All  rights  reserved  under  International  and 
Pan-American  Copyright  Conventions.  Published  in 
the  United  States  by  Random  House,  Inc.,  New 
York,  and  simultaneously  in  Canada  by  Random 
House  of  Canada  Limited,  Toronto. 

Library  of  Congress  Cataloging  in  Publication  Data 

Meisner,  Sanford. 

Sanford  Meisner  on  acting. 

“A  Vintage  original" — T.p.  verso. 

1.  Acting.  I.  Longwell,  Dennis.  II.  Title. 
PN2061.M38  1987  7927028  86-46187 

ISBN  0-394-75059-4  (pbk.) 

Book  design  by  Guenet  Abraham  i 

Manufactured  in  the  United  States  of  America 

Pages  251-252  constitute  an  extension 
of  this  copyright  page. 

B98  ' 


For  James  Carville 


I  wish  the  stage  were  as  narrow  as  the  wire  of  a  tightrope  dancer,  so  that 
no  incompetent  would  dare  step  upon  it. 

—Johann  Wolfgang  von  Goethe  (1749—1832):  Wilhelm  Meisters Lebrjabre, 
book  4,  chapter  2 

This  quotation  Meisner  has  framed  and  hung  on  the  wall  of  his  office. 


ggjggjj  Acknowledgments 


I  want  to  thank  Kent  Paul,  who  first  suggested  that  I  write  this 
book,  and  whose  friendly  encouragement  helped  to  keep  me 
going  when  its  end  was  only  dimly  in  sight.  I  thank  him,  too,  for 
lending  me  his  archive  on  the  Group  Theatre,  material  which 
enriched  the  biographical  sections  of  this  work,  and  for  generous 
permission  to  incorporate  material  drawn  from  transcripts  of  the 
excellent  documentary  film  he  produced,  Sanford  Meisner:  The 
Theater’s  Best  Kept  Secret. 

I  am  grateful  also  to  Dorothy  L.  Swerdlove,  Curator  of  the 
Billy  Rose  Theater  Collection,  for  swiftly  answering  tough  ques¬ 
tions,  and  to  her  colleagues  on  the  Staff  of  the  Performing  Arts 
Research  Center  of  the  New  York  Public  Library  at  Lincoln 


Center  for  their  unflagging  assistance.  I  received  help  also  from 
the  staff  of  the  John  Jermain  Memorial  Library  in  Sag  Harbor, 
New  York,  who  secured  for  me  dozens  of  urgently  needed  books 
from  libraries  throughout  the  state  of  New  York. 

Sanford  Meisner  joins  me  in  expressing  deep  appreciation  to 
James  Carville  for  his  guidance  and  discipline  in  adhering  to  the 
clarity  with  which  the  technique  was  expressed.  We  also  admire 
and  thank  our  tireless  agent,  Connie  Claussen,  and  our  insightful 
editor,  Joseph  Fox. 

— Dennis  Longwell 
Sag  Harbor,  New  York 
October  1986 


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Introduction  by  Sydney  Pollack 
Prologue 


1.  Setting  the  Scene:  Duse’s  Blush 

3 

2.  Building  a  Foundation:  The  Reality  of  Doing 

16 

3.  The  Pinch  and  the  Ouch 

26 

4.  The  Knock  on  the  Door 

38 

5.  Beyond  Repetition 

57 

6.  Preparation:  “In  the  Harem  of  My  Head” 

78 

7.  Improvisation 

96 

8.  More  on  Preparation:  “Quick  As  Flame” 

9.  The  Magic  As  If:  Particularization 

10.  “Making  the  Part  Your  Own” 

11.  Some  Thoughts  on  Actors  and  on  Acting 

12.  Final  Scenes:  “Instead  of  Merely  the  Truth” 
Spring  Awakening  by  Frank  Wedekind 

A  Palm  Tree  in  a  Rose  Garden  by  Meade  Roberts 

Golden  Boy  by  Clifford  Odets 

The  Seagull  by  Anton  Chekhov 

Summer  and  Smoke  by  Tennessee  Williams 

(part  1,  scene  6) 

Summer  and  Smoke  by  Tennessee  Williams 
(part  2,  scene  11) 


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We  called  him  Sandy  but  it  felt  daring  and  dangerous,  like  order¬ 
ing  a  martini  in  a  nightclub  when  you  were  sixteen  and  trying 
to  pass  for  twenty-one.  He  was  too  awesome  a  presence  for  the 
familiarity  of  a  first  name.  It  was  1952  and  I  was  eighteen  years 
old  and  had  blundered  into  his  classes  at  the  Neighborhood  Play¬ 
house  in  New  York.  Nothing  had  prepared  me  for  the  intensity 
of  this  experience.  It  wasn’t  that  he  was  harsh  or  mean;  it  was 
only  that  he  was  so  frighteningly  accurate.  You  felt  he  knew 
every  thought,  impulse  or  feeling  in  your  head,  that  he  had  an 
ability  to  x-ray  your  very  being  and  there  was  absolutely  no  place 
to  hide.  Each  time  he  spoke  about  acting  he  crystallized  ideas  that 
you  somehow  knew  were  true,  even  though  you  had  no  idea  that 


x/v 


you’d  ever  sensed  them  before — like  those  physicists  who  dis¬ 
cover  new  particles  simply  because  the  theory  for  their  existence 
is  so  beautiful.  When  Sandy  spoke  it  was  often  difficult  to  keep 
from  jumping  up  and  shouting,  “That’s  true!  That  s  right!  That  s 
absolutely  right!”  It  was  stunning  to  have  him  hurling  those 
lightning  bolts  directly  to  the  inside  of  your  brain.  One  poor  guy 
simply  couldn’t  contain  himself  and  actually  did  blurt  out,  My 
God,  that’s  right!”  Sandy  simply  mumbled,  “Thank  you,  you’ve 
just  confirmed  twenty-five  years  of  my  work. 

Sanford  Meisner’s  work  was,  and  is,  to  impart  to  students  an 
organized  approach  to  the  creation  of  real  and  truthful  behavior 
within  the  imaginary  circumstances  of  the  theater.  Like  his  con¬ 
temporaries  from  the  Group  Theatre,  he  has  been  changing  the 
face  of  American  acting  ever  since  he  was  first  exposed  to  the 
ideas  of  Konstantin  Stanislavsky  in  the  nineteen  thirties.  Harold 
Clurman,  Lee  Strasberg,  Stella  Adler,  Bobby  Lewis  and  Sanford 
Meisner  emerged  from  the  Group  Theatre  as  the  preeminent 
teachers  of  what  has  come  to  be  known  as  ‘the  Method’,  a  kind 
of  lazy  label  that  refers  to  most  of  contemporary  American  act¬ 
ing.  Each  one  of  these  teachers  has  really  made  his  own  method, 
honing  down  and  personalizing  his  approach  over  the  years. 
Though  they  all  were  extraordinary  teachers,  Sandy’s  approach 
has  always  been  for  me  the  simplest,  most  direct,  least  preten¬ 
tious  and  most  effective. 

The  Neighborhood  Playhouse  offered  a  two-year  intensive 
course  in  all  aspects  of  the  theater.  It  was  unequalled  anywhere, 
and  even  though  the  faculty  boasted  such  luminaries  as  Martha 
Graham,  Jane  Dudley  and  Pearl  Lang,  it  was  Sandy’s  daily  acting 
classes  that  kept  our  adrenaline  pumped  up  for  two  years.  When 
I  graduated  in  the  spring  of  1954,  I  was  invited  to  return  the 
following  fall  on  a  fellowship  as  his  assistant,  and  so  1  had  t  e 
extraordinary  opportunity  to  continue  to  learn  from  him  for 
another  six  years  until  I  moved  to  California  in  1960  to  begin 
directing.  I  had  no  aspirations  to  teach,  and  certainly  none  to 
direct,  but  the  chance  to  continue  to  observe  and  learn  from 
Meisner  was  impossible  to  pass  up.  When  truths  about  one  art  are 
deep  enough,  they  become  true  about  all  art,  and  so  althoug 
Sandy  addressed  himself  only  to  the  art  of  acting,  I  was,  without 


XV 


knowing  it,  absorbing  the  foundation  of  what  would  become  a 
very  specific  approach  to  directing.  The  fact  is  that  every  area  in 
which  I  function  as  a  director — -writing,  production  design,  cos¬ 
tume  design,  casting,  staging,  cinematography,  even  editing — is 
dominated  by,  and  concerned  with,  the  principles  and  ideas  I’ve 
learned  from  Meisner. 

Sandy  used  to  say,  “It  takes  twenty  years  to  become  an  actor.” 
We  thought  he  was  exaggerating.  We  should  have  known  better; 
he  wasn’t.  He  was  referring  to  that  time,  if  it  should  come,  when 
all  the  principles  and  ideas  would  be  chewed  up  and  digested  into 
a  kind  of  actors’  instinct,  a  technique  that  functioned  almost  by 
itself.  He  never  wanted  the  work  to  be  about  technique.  If  you 
were  his  student,  you  learned  technique  as  a  means  to  an  end,  \ 
never  as  an  end  in  itself.  You’d  be  surprised  by  how  many  acting 
teachers  don’t  understand  that. 

In  1981,  I  went  back  to  New  York  to  film  some  of  Meisner’s 
classes  for  a  documentary.  We  worked  in  a  small  downtown 
theater  given  to  us  by  Joe  Papp.  It  had  been  twenty-one  years 
since  I  had  observed  Sandy  in  action.  Of  course  he  had  aged.  He’d 
had  a  laryngectomy  (the  removal  of  his  vocal  cords),  had  been 
struck  by  a  van  that  shattered  his  hip,  had  two  cataract  operations 
and  wore  thick  glasses  with  a  microphone  attached  to  them  to 
amplify  the  new  way  he’d  learned  to  speak  by  swallowing  air. 
But  the  same  “high”  was  there  in  the  class,  the  same  intense 
concentration  and  the  sense  of  falling  forward  into  new  areas  of 
understanding  and  experience.  Some  contemporaries  of  mine, 
old-timers  who  had  made  the  pilgrimage  back  to  take  the  classes 
again,  were  present.  They  were  just  as  nervous  in  front  of  him 
as  they  had  always  been — and  they  were  learning  just  as  much 
as  they  always  had.  The  only  vivid  difference  to  me  was  that 
because  of  the  effort  involved  for  Sandy  to  speak,  there  were 
fewer  words.  When  they  came,  they  were  like  rich,  boiled-down 
broth.  (As  I  write  this,  I  think  of  a  remark  made  about  Chekhov 
by  Maxim  Gorky:  “In  Chekhov’s  presence  everyone  felt  in  him¬ 
self  a  desire  to  be  simpler,  more  truthful,  more  one’s  self.”) 

This  is  a  book  about  acting.  It’s  also  a  book  about  a  lot  of  other 
things  by  a  man  who  has  spent  his  life  weeding  away  what  is 
unnecessary,  and  trying  to  demystify  this  process  of  igniting  an 


* 


actor's  itnagrnation  an«ning  J* 

The  first  thing  that  will  s  >  attitude  about  theory 

jumbo  here,  no  mystenou  ,  ^  of  Sandy’s  techniqu^|ffl| 

it  may  appear  simple.  A  ,  it’s  just  the  clarity  wism 

appearance  is  deceptive.  J  *£0  has  eve’r  tried  to  work  truly  and| 
which  he  offers  it.  Any  era  knows  that  it  .is 

privately  on  a  stage  or  in  ron  of  ^  ^  ^ 
anything  but  simple-at  leas  ^  can  realiy  teach  the 

I  believe  there  are  only  a  few  p  P  intelligent;'  and  con- 

technique  of  acting.  Most  are ;  weU-r e  about  the  subject 

yotf  tvbo^may  be^diScovwfn^Sandy  for  the  first  time. 


When  they  learn  that  I  teach  acting,  people  who  love  the  theater 
but  are  not  of  the  theater  often  ask  me  just  what  one  teaches  to 
hopeful  aspirants  that  turns  them  eventually  into  trained  actors. 

“Decent  diction,  of  course,”  they  go  on  to  suppose.  “And  then 
voice  control  and  bodily  grace.  But  what  else — or  is  there  any¬ 
thing  else?” 

There  is.  The  other  elements  in  a  person’s  training  that  will 
make  him  or  her  a  distinctive  and  interesting  actor  are  the  most 
delicate  factors  that  a  teacher  can  impart.  One  can  use  standard 
principles  and  textbooks  in  educating  people  for  law,  medicine, 
architecture,  chemistry  or  almost  any  other  profession^ — but  not 
for  the  theater.  For,  in  most  professions,  every  practitioner  uses 


xviii 

the  same  tools  and  techniques,  while  the  actor’s  chief  instrument 
is  himself.  And  since  no  two  persons  are  alike,  no  universal  rule 
is  applicable  to  any  two  actors  in  exactly  the  same  way. 

I  once  spent  four  lovely  months  in  Puerto  Rico  in  a  little  house 
on  the  beach  where  I  went  specifically  to  write  a  book  about  these 
matters.  I  wrote  two  chapters.  Later,  when  I  reread  them,  I  didn’t 
understand  them,  and  I  thought  that  was  the  end  of  the  book.  I 
decided  that  a  creative  textbook  about  acting  was  a  contradiction 
in  terms,  and  that  it  was  foolish,  even  wrong,  to  attempt  to  write 
one.  . 

Still,  friends  whom  I  respected  convinced  me  that  my  experi¬ 
ence  in  teaching  young  actors  their  craft  was  of  value,  and  that 
perhaps  with  a  collaborator  my  ideas  could  be  put  into  the  form 
of  a  book.  A  collaborator  was  found,  a  book  was  written,  and  I 
was  bitterly  disappointed  at  the  results.  My  basic  principles  were 
now  on  paper,  but,  paradoxically,  how  I  uniquely  transmit  my 
ideas  wasn’t  sufficiently  apparent.  My  students  weren’t  in  those 
pages  either,  nor  was  the  classroom  in  which  we  interacted  week 
in  and  week  out.  Lastly — and  this  was  the  greatest  lack— the 
drama  inherent  in  our  interaction,  as  they  struggled  to  learn 
what  I  struggled  to  teach,  was  missing.  I  came  to  realize  that  how 
I  teach  is  determined  by  the  gradual  development  of  each  stu¬ 
dent.  1 

That  particular  book  was  never  published.  My  theatrical  in¬ 
stinct  should  have  told  me  why.  The  confessional  mode  is  impos¬ 
sible  to  sustain  at  length  in  the  theater,  which  is  an  arena  where 
human  personalities  interlock  in  the  reality  of  doing.  When  we 
think  of  the  characters  in- a  play,  we  naturally  think  of  them  in 
active,  objective  terms.  Oedipus,  he.  Phaedra,  she.  Exeunt  Lear 
and  the  Fool. 

All  this  past  history  is  related  to  explain  to  the  reader  the  form 
this  new  collaboration  has  taken.  In  it  I  appear  not  as  “I,”  but  as 
“he.”  That  is,  I  appear  as  I  am:  a  teacher,  surrounded  by  gifted 
students,  of  a  difficult  and  ultimately  mysterious  art,  that  of  act¬ 
ing.  Bernard  Shaw,  who  I  believe  was  the  greatest  theater  critic 
since  Aristotle,  wrote:  “Self-betrayal,  magnified  to  suit  the  optics 
of  the  theatre,  is  the  whole  art  of  acting.”  By  “self-betrayal,” 
Shaw  meant  the  pure,  unselfconscious  revelation  of  the  gifted 


xix 


actor’s  most  inner  and  most  private  being  to  the  people  in  his 
audience.  In  these  pages  the  student  actors  reveal  themselves 
through  the  various  demands  of  the  exercises  in  order  to  achieve 
the  self-knowledge  needed  to  apply  the  basic  principles  of  my 
concept  of  acting.  I,  too,  betray  myself  in  the  sense  that  here,  in 
order  to  teach  what  I  know,  I  am  forced  to  reveal  much  more  of 
myself  than  any  prudent  man  would  confess  to  his  priest. 

One  final  word:  if  I  risk  censure  for  making  myself  the  central 
character  in  the  chronicle  that  follows,  I  do  so  in  the  name  of  the 
art  of  theatrical  self-revelation,  which  is  exactly  the  role  I  play  in 
in  my  classroom.  Stage  center! 


— Sanford  Meisner 
New  York  City 
October  1986 


1 


Setting  the  Scene:  Duse's  Blush 

Everything  should  be  as  in  real  life. 

—Anton  Chekhov  to  the  cast  of  the  first  production 
of  his  play,  The  Seagull,  St.  Petersburg,  1896 


At  first  glance,  except  for  the  twin  beds,  the  room  resembles  any 
number  of  small  classrooms  almost  anywhere  in  the  country.  Its 
white  plaster  ceiling,  pale  yellow  tongue-and-groove  wooden 
walls  and  waxed,  black-asphalt  tile  floor  evoke  the  campus  of  a 
teachers’  college  somewhere  in  the  Midwest  or,  in  its  cloistered 
quiet,  the  interior  of  a  one-room  schoolhouse  at  dawn. 

To  the  left  of  the  room’s  center  stands  a  large,  gray  wooden 
desk — clearly  the  teacher’s — set  at  an  angle  before  a  slate  black¬ 
board.  To  its  left  is  a  wall  of  windows,  which  look  out  into  a 
courtyard  where,  through  Venetian  blinds,  only  the  tops  of  trees 
can  be  seen.  Below  the  windows  on  a  simple  platform  are  two 
rows  of  folding  chairs,  about  twenty  in  all,  for  the  students.  Two 


4 

framed  exhortatory  maxims  written  in  the  style  of  pseudo- 
illuminated  manuscripts  hang  on  either  side  of  the  blackboard. 
Be  Specific!  says  one,  and  the  other,  An  Ounce  of  BEHAVIOR 
is  Worth  a  Pound  of  WORDS. 

The  room  seems  ordinary  except  for  the  two  beds,  which  some¬ 
one  has  pushed  against  the  wall  opposite  the  windows.  Squat  and 
wide,  the  beds  were  specially  constructed  of  two-by-fours  bolted 
together  with  six-inch  steel  bolts,  and  seem  sturdy  enough  to 
support  the  combined  weight  of  a  soccer  team.  The  striped  tick¬ 
ing  of  each  mattress  is  partially  covered  with  a  rumpled  green 
cotton  bedspread  and  a  pillow  without  a  pillowcase.  Like  the 
teacher’s  desk,  the  beds  have  been  painted  battleship  gray.  There 
is  something  surreal  about  them.  Perhaps  it  is  their  exaggerated 
sturdiness  or  their  utilitarian  color  that  makes  them  seem  more 
like  trampolines  than  beds  or,  conjoined  as  they  are  now,  like  the 
canvas-covered  floor  of  a  boxing  ring. 

Other  objects  not  noticeable  at  first  share  the  Magritte-like 
surrealism  of  the  beds:  an  empty  bookcase  with  a  black  desk 
phone  and  two  empty  whiskey  bottles  on  its  top;  a  coatrack 
missing  one  of  its  three  legs;  a  console  television  set  with  no 
insides;  a  mirror  propped  against  the  wall,  reflecting  the  sky 
outside;  a  long  wooden  table  also  painted  gray.  Together  they 
complete  the  room’s  spare  furnishings. 

In  this  special  New  York  City  classroom  in  the  Neighborhood 
Playhouse  School  of  the  Theatre,  as  in  dozens  of  similar  rooms 
reaching  back  in  time  to  the  early  1930s,  Sanford  Meisner  has 
taught  acting.  After  fifty  years  the  number  of  his  students  is 
unknown,  but  it  certainly  runs  into  the  thousands.  While  no 
individual  can  speak'for  all  of  them,  perhaps  Joanne  Woodward, 
who  studied  first  as  a  college  student  with  Sandy  (as  he  is  invari¬ 
ably  called  by  his  students)  and  later  returned  to  him  as  an  adult, 
suggests  most  succinctly  what  he  may  mean  to  the  majority  of 
them.  “I  went  back  to  Sandy  because  to  me  he  was  a  teacher,” 
Miss  Woodward  recalled  recently.  “To  me  he  was  the.  only 
teacher.  This  was  after  I  had  done  Three  Faces  of  Eve  and  had  won 
an  Academy  Award.  It  was  1959,  and  it  was  a  revelation  to  me. 
It  was  a  whole  turning  point  in  my  growth  as  an  actress.” 

The  American  playwright  David  Mamet,  who  studied  acting 


SETTING  THE  SCENE:  DUSE'S  BLUSH 


5 


with  Meisner  at  the  Neighborhood  Playhouse,  also  spoke  re¬ 
cently  of  his  importance.  “Here  was  a  man  who,  especially  to  my 
generation  in  the  sixties,  actually  knew  something.  One  of  the 
first  authentic  people  that  I,  and  most  of  us,  had  ever  met  in  our 
lives.  Of  course  he  was  autocratic  about  those  things  he  believed 
in  because  he  knew  them  to  be  the  truth.  And  we  knew  we  were 
being  exposed  to  the  truth — that  is,  to  something  which  was 
absolutely  practicable,  which  absolutely  worked,  and  which  we 
wanted  desperately  to  learn.”* 


Sanford  Meisner  was  born  on  August  3 1,  1905,  in  the  Greenpoint 
section  of  the  New  York  borough  of  Brooklyn,  the  firstborn  child 
of  Herman  and  Bertha  Meisner.  The  Meisners,  both  Jews  who 
had  emigrated  from  Hungary — she  as  a  baby,  he  as  a  young  man 
of  sixteen — fled  the  anti-Semitism  of  the  Polish  immigrants  of 
Greenpoint  and  moved  to  the  Bronx  a  few  months  after  the  birth 
of  their  son.  They  settled  in  an  area,  of  the  South  Bronx  in  a  house 
on  Honeywell  Avenue  where,  two  years  later,  a  second  son, 
Jacob,  was  born.  During  a  trip  to  the  Catskills,  made  in  an  effort 
to  improve  three-year-old  Sanford’s  health,  little  Jacob  was  inad¬ 
vertently  given  unpasteurized  milk  to  drink,  and  the  disastrous 
result  was  a  wasting  disease,  bovine  tuberculosis,  from  which  the 
second  son  never  recovered. 

“I  have  had  considerable  experience  in  psychoanalysis," 
Meisner  recently  told  an  interviewer,  “so  I  know  quite  clearly 
that  the  death  of  my  brother  when  I  was  five  and  he  was  three 
was  the  dominant  emotional  influence  in  my  life  from  which  I 
have  never,  after  all  these  years,,  escaped.  When  I  went  to  school 
— after  school,  anytime — I  lived  in  a  state  of  isolation  as  if  I  was 
some  kind  of  moral  leper,  because  my  parents,  who  were  good 
people  but  not  too  bright,  told  me  that  if  it  hadn’t  been  for  me, 
they  wouldn’t  have  had  to  go  to  the  country,  where  my  younger 

*The  Woodward  and  Mamet  quotes  are  from  transcripts  of  filmed  inter¬ 
views  made  for  the  documentary  Sanford  Meisner:  The  Theater’s  Best  Kept  Secret, 
produced  by  Kent  Paul  and  distributed  by  Columbia  Pictures. 


6 

brother  got  ill,  and  from  which  illness  he  died.  The  guilt  that  this 
caused  was  horrendous.  In  my  childhood  I  rarely  had  friends.  I 
lived,  as  I’m  afraid  I  still  do,  in  a  world  of  fantasy.”  , 

Afister,  Ruth,  to  whom  Meisner  was  close — she  died  in  1983 
—and  a  second  brother,  Robert,  born  when  Meisner  was  sixteen 
and  the  family  had  moved  to  the  Flatbush  section  of  Brooklyn, 
and  with  whom  he  has  lost  contact,  completed  the  household. 

Meisner  remembers  telling  his  first-grade  teacher  that  he 
wanted  to  be  “an  actor”  when  he  grew  up,  and,  during  his  teen¬ 
age  years,  directing  various  cousins  in  tableaux  vivants  based  on 
themes  of  death  and  honor  inspired  by  newsreel  views  of  Ameri¬ 
can  soldiers  in  World  War  One.  But  for  most  of  his  youth  he 
found  an  emotional  release  in  playing  the  family’s  piano.  After 
graduating  from  Erasmus  Hall  High  School  in  1923,  he  entered 
the  Damrosch  Institute  of  Music  (later  absorbed  into  the  Juilliard 
School)  for  an  additional  year’s  study  of  the  piano  and  related 
subjects.  But  the  idea  of  acting  professionally  persisted,  and  at 
nineteen  he  began. 

“I  always  wanted  to  be  an  actor,”  Meisner  recalls.  “I  had  a 
friend— I  was  in  Flatbush  then^-who  also  wanted  to  be  an  actor; 
his  name  was  Monkey  Tobias.  He  told  me  that  a  place  called  the 
Theatre  Guild  was  hiring  kids,  so  I  went  there.  Philip  Loeb  and 
Theresa  Helburn  interviewed  me,  and  I  remember  lying  elabo¬ 
rately  about  my  past  in  the  theatre;  it  may' have  started  with 
Salvini  for  all  I  know.  I  remember  them  laughing,  but  not  laugh¬ 
ing  at  me.  So  I  got  a  job  as  an  extra  in  Sidney  Howard’s  They  Knew 
What  They  Wanted,  and  starring  in  it  was  the  great  Pauline  Lord. 
She  was  a  genius,  pure  and  simple.  She’d  sit  backstage  and  work 
on  her  crossword  puzzles.  ‘What’s  a  three-letter  word  for  some¬ 
thing  a  man  wears  on  his  head?’  she’d  ask.  ‘Hat?  Cap?’  How  could 
she  decide?  That’s  how  simple  she  was.  But  she  was  a  genius.  She 
had  been  the  original  Anna  Christie,  and  I  loved  to  see  her  play. 
By  that  time  I  was  beginning  to  realize  that  acting  which  really 
dug  at  me  was  what  I  was  looking  for.” 

Herman  Meisner  had  become  a  furrier  on  his.  arrival  from 
Hungary,  a  job  he  held  for  over  fifty  years.  His  son  does  a  won¬ 
derfully  funny  imitation  of  Herman  in  which  he  is  introduced  to 
a  young  woman  wearing  a  mink  coat,  suavely  kisses  her  hand  and 


7 


SETTING  THE  SCENE:  DUSE’S  BLUSH 

then  deftly  blows  onto  the  sleeve  of  the  coat  to  determine  the 
quality  and  value  of  the  fur.  A  career  in  clothing  manufacturing 
was  his  father's  expressed  wish  for  him,  and  briefly,  to  please  his 
father,  Meisner  worked  as  a  stockboy  in  a  pants  factory  and  a  lace 
store.  This  was  before  his  success  at  the  Theatre  Guild.  The  elder 
Meisner’s  response  to  his  son’s  new  career  was  at  first  stunned 
silence.  “I  told  them  at  dinner,”  he  recalls.  “I  announced  that  I 
had  become  an  actor.  Dead  silence.  No  one  said  a  word.  My 
father,  my  mother,  my  sister.  Then,  during  dessert,  my  father 
asked,  ‘How  much  are  they  paying  you?’  I  said,  ‘Well,  after  the 
first  four  weeks,  if  the  play  is  a  success,  they  give  you  ten  dollars 
a  week.’  All  hell  broke  loose!  The  chaos,  the  eruption  at  the  table 
when  I  said  ten  dollars  a  week  was  terrific!  But  I  went  right  on!” 

Meisner  received  a  scholarship  to  study  at  the  Theatre  Guild 
School  of  Acting,  which  was  directed  by  Winifred  Lenihan,  an 
American  actress  who  had  been  the  first  to  perform  Bernard 
Shaw’s  Saint  Joan'  in  New  York.  She  was,  in  Meisner’s  opinion, 
“a  stock-company  technician,”  and  the  school  was  “a  very  medio¬ 
cre  place.”  At  this  time  Meisner  was  introduced  through  a  musi¬ 
cian  friend  to  Aaron  Copland,  a  young  composer  newly  returned 
from  studying  in  Paris,  who  in  turn  introduced  him  to  a  recent 
student  at  the  Sorbonne,  his  friend  Harold  Clurman,  who,  Cop¬ 
land  realized,  was  as  passionate  about  the  theater  as  Meisner  was. 
In  a  short  time  Clurman  became  a  stage  manager,  then  a  play 
reader,  for  the  Theatre  Guild.  Through  this  friendship,  Meisner 
was  introduced  to  another  young  theater  lover,  Lee  Strasberg. 
“Strasberg  had  a  great,  uplifting  influence  on  me,”  Meisner  re¬ 
calls.  “He  introduced  me  to  quality  actors  and  artists  of  various 
kinds,  and  this  helped  enormously  to  solidify  my  emotional 
needs.  I  learned  from  him.  I  solidified  my  natural  tastes  and 
inclinations  with  his  help.  For  example,  together  we  went  to  the 
Metropolitan  Opera  and  saw  the  great  Russian  singer  Chaliapin. 
What  made  him  preeminent  was  his  possession  of  deep  emotional 
truth  and  theatricality  of  form.” 

Clurman  and  Strasberg  joined  with  another  Theatre  Guild 
worker,  Cheryl  Crawford,  and  in  1931,  after  three  years  of  talks 
and  fund-raising,  the  triumvirate  selected  twenty-eight  actors  to 
form  the  legendary  Group  Theatre.  Although  it  existed  as  an 


8 

institution  for,  only  ten  years,  the  Group  was  to  exert  a  profound 
influence  on  the  developing  art  of  American  acting.  Meisner, 
only  twenty-five  at  the  time,  was  a  founding  member.  The  result 
was  fortuitous.  “Without  the  Group,”  Meisner  has  said,  I  would 
have  been  in  the  fur  business.” 

For  an  insight  into  the  importance  of  the  Group  Theatre  in  the 
artistic  life  of  the  United  States  in  the  1930s,  here  are  the  words 
of  playwright  Arthur  Miller: 

“[My]  sole  sense  of  connection  with  theater  came  when  I  saw 
the  productions  of  the  Group  Theatre,”  Miller  wrote  in  the 
introduction  to  his  Collected  Plays  (published  in  1957,  over  three 
decades  after  the  Group  had  been  disbanded).  It  was  not  only 
the  brilliance  of  ensemble  acting,  which  in  my  opinion  has  never 
/been  equalled  since  in  America,  but  the  air  of  union  created 
between  actors  and  the  audience.  Here  was  the  promise  of  pro¬ 
phetic  theater  which  suggested  to  my  mind  the  Greek  situation 
when  religion  and  belief  were  five  heart  of  drama.  I  watched  the 
Group  Theatre  from  fifty-five-cept 'seats  in  the  balcony,  and  at 
intermission  time  it  was  possible  to  feel  the  heat  and  the  passion 
of  people  moved  not  only  in  their  bellies  but  in  their  thoughts. 
If  I  say  that  my  own  writer’s  ego  found  fault  with  the  plays,  it 
does  not  detract  from  the  fact  that  the  performances  were  almost 
all  inspiring  to  me.  ...” 

When  in  1938  the  Group  Theatre  took  to  London  its  most 
Celebrated  production,  Clifford  Odets’  Golden  Boy  (in  which 
Meisner  played  the  featured  role  of  the  menacing  gangster,  Eddie 
Fuseli),  the  critic  for  the  London  Times ,  James  Agate,  said  simply: 
“The  acting  attains  a  level  which  is  something  we  know  nothing 
at  all  about.” 

The  source  for  the  quality  of  the  acting  in  the  Group  Theatre 
sprang  from  the  famed  Moscow  Art  Theatre  and  from  the  theory 
and  practice  of  acting,  the  System,  evolved  by  its  co-director, 
Konstantin  Stanislavsky.  Stanislavsky  was  doubly  important  to 
the  Group.  First,  he  was  the  teacher  of  Richard  Boleslavski  and 
Maria  Ouspenskaya,  two  noted  Moscow  Art  Theatre  actors  who 


9 


"  SETTING  THE  SCENE:  DUSE'S  BLUSH 

emigrated  to  New  York  and  in  1924  founded  the  American  Labo¬ 
ratory  Theatre.  In  its  six  years  of  activity,  this  school  trained 
several  hundred  American  actors  and  directors  in  an  early  ver¬ 
sion  of  the  Stanislavsky  System.  Actresses  Stella  Adler,  Ruth 
Nelson  and  Eunice  Stoddard  were  students  and  members  of  the 
Lab’s  repertory  company  before  joining  the  Group.  Lee  Stras- 
berg  was  a  student  there  in  1924,  and  he  and  Harold  Clurman  also 
studied  in  the  directors  unit. 

Clurman  was  later  to  write  in  his  history  of  the  Group 
Theatre,  The  Fervent  Years:  “The  first  effect  [of  the  Stanislavsky 
System]  on  the  actors  was  that  of  a  miracle.  .  .  .  Here  at  last  was 
a  key  to  that  elusive  ingredient  of  the  stage,  true  emotion.  And 
Strasberg  [wfio  was  the  chief  director  of  the  Group’s  productions 
during  its  early  years]  was  a  fanatic  on  the  subject  of  true  emo¬ 
tion.  Everything  was  secondary  to  it.  He  sought  it  with  the 
patience  of  an  inquisitor,  he  was  outraged  by  trick  substitutes, 
and  when  he  had  succeeded  in  stimulating  it,  he  husbanded  it,  fed 
it,  and  protected  it.  Here  was  something  new  to  most,  of  the 
actors,  something  basic,  something  almost  holy.  It  was  revelation 
in  the  theatre;  and  Strasberg  was  its  prophet.” 

Stanislavsky’s  second  point  of  contact  with  the  Group  was 
more  direct.  In  the  spring  of  1934  Harold  Clurman  and  Stella 
Adler  met  with  the  Russian  director,  who  was  convalescing  in 
Paris,  and  for  more  than  five  weeks  Miss  Adler  worked  with  him 
to  clarify  those  aspects  of  the  System  (in  the  version  taught  to  her 
by  Strasberg)  that  caused  difficulty  for  her  and  other  members  of 
the  Group.  The  result  of  her  work,  which  she  reported  to  the 
Group  the  following  summer,  was  to  deemphasize  the  impor¬ 
tance  Strasberg  had  placed  on  “affective  memory”— which  might 
be  defined  as  the  conscious  attempt  on  the  part  of  the  actor  to 
remember  the  circumstances  surrounding  an  emotion-filled 
event  from  his  real  past  in  order  to  stimulate  an  emotion  which 
he  could  use  on  the  stage.  Rather,  Miss  Adler  said,  Stanislavsky 
now  thought  that  the  key  to  true  emotion  was  to  be  found  in  a 
full  understanding  of  the  “given  circumstances”— the  human 
problems — contained  in  the  play  itself.  This  shift  of  emphasis 
was  critical,  and  it  led  directly  to  a  diminution  of' Strasberg’ s  hold 


on  the  acting  company  and  to  his  eventual  resignation  from  the 
Group  in  1935.  On  this  issue,  Meisner  sided  with  Stella  Adler, 
who  was  later  to  become  a  noted  acting  teacher  and  close  friend, 
and  affective  or  emotional  memory  plays  no  role  in  the  system 
Meisner  has  evolved. 

When  an  interviewer  asked,  “How  were  you  introduced  to  the 
Stanislavsky  System?”  Meisner’s  reply  was  straightforward.  In 
the  Group  Theatre,  by  the  pioneer  leadership  of  Harold  Clur^ 
man  and  Lee  Strasberg;  from  Stella  Adler,  who  worked  with 
Stanislavsky  and  to  whom  I  listened  attentively  and  rewardingly, 
and  by  the  actor  Michael  Chekhov,  who  made  me  realize  that 
truth,  as  in  naturalism,  was  far  from  the  whole  truth.  In  him  I 
witnessed  exciting  theatrical  form  with  no  loss  of  inner  content, 
and  I  knew  that  I  wanted  this  too.  And  finally,  from  the  lucid  and 
objective  approach  of  [Ilya]  Sudakov  and  [I  ]  Rapoport,”  Russian 
theorists  whose  writings  stressed  the  importance  of  the  reality  of 
doing,  the  foundation  of  Meisner’s  system,  and  were  circulated 
throughout  the  Group  in  an  English  translation  in  the  1930s. 


On  November  30,  1936,  the  Group  Theatre’s  new  production, 
Johnny  Johnson  (. A  Legend),  by  Paul  Green  opened.  The  play  is 
remembered  today  primarily  for  its  musical  score,  which  was  the 
first  work  the  German  expatriate  Kurt  Weill  wrote  in  the  United 
States.  In  the  program  for  the  play,  under  “Who  s  Who  in  the 
Cast,”  Sanford  Meisner  published  a  biographical  note  which  is 
remarkable  on  two  counts.  First,  it  provides  an  insight  into  how 
he  felt  about  his  career  as  an  actor;  second,  the  final  sentence 
announces  the  beginning  of  a  new  career:  “Sanford  Meisner 
(Captain  Valentine)  was  so  long  entrusted  with  the  carrying  o 
a  spear  that  it  came  as  a  great  shock — but  a  pleasant  one-—to  see 
him  do  a  full-fledged  characterization  in  ‘Gold  Eagle  Guy.’  [This 
work,  by  Melvin  Levy,  was  produced  in  1934.]  He  carried  the 

*  Paul  Gray,  “The  Reality  of  Doing,"  Tulane  Drama  Review  (special  edition, 
“Stanislavsky  in  America”),  FallT964, ‘139. 


11 


JpSflNG  THE  SCENE:  DUSE’S  BLUSH 

spear  for  both  the  Theatre  Guild,  whose  school  he  attended,  and 
for  the  Group.  Meisner  is  a  native  of  the  borough  of  Brooklyn, 
although  he  took  care  to  attend  school  in  Manhattan.  His  school¬ 
ing  included  the  Damrosch  Conservatory,  which  turned  him  into 
a  skilled  pianist.  Since  ‘Gold  Eagle  Guy’  he  has  regularly  ap¬ 
peared  in  featured  roles  for  the  Group.  He  teaches  acting  at  the 
Neighborhood  Playhouse.” 

This  shift  from  spear  carrier  to  teacher  is  an  amusing  meta¬ 
phor..  In  reality,  Meisner’s  career  as  an  actor  had  blossomed.  In 
he  previous  season  alone,  he  had  created  critically  acclaimed 
roles  in  two  plays  by  the  Group’s  resident  playwright,  Clifford 
Odets:  Sam  Feinschreiber  in  Awake  and  Sing!  and  the  young  son, 
Julie,  who  is  afflicted  with  sleeping  sickness  in  Paradise  Lost,  the 
part  Meisner  considers  the  finest  of  his  career.  In  addition  he  had 
co-directed  with  Odets  the  latter’s  famous  one-act  play,  Waiting 
for  Lefty.  In  the  future,  Meisner  was  to  play  important  roles  in 
such  Odets  works  as  Rocket  to  the  Moon  (1938)  and  Night  Music 
(1940),  and  he  continued  to  act  in  the  theater  long  after  the  Group 
disbanded  in  1941.  His  last  stage  role  was  Norbert  Mandel  in 
S.  N.  Behrman’s  The  Cold  Wind  and  the  Warm,  directed  by  Harold 
Clurman,  which  opened  in  December  1958.  The  following  year, 
after  a  rift  with  the  administration  of  the  Neighborhood  Play¬ 
house,  he  became  director  of  the  New  Talent  Division  of  20th 
Century-Fox  and  moved  to  Los  Angeles,  where  he  began  a  prom¬ 
ising  career  as  a  film  actor. 

But  emotionally  it  was  only  teaching  that  fulfilled  Meisner  in 
his  maturity  in  the  profound  way  that  the  piano  had  fulfilled  him 
as  a  youth.  “The  only  time  I  am  free  and  enjoying  myself  is  when 
I’m  teaching,”  he  has  repeatedly  said.  “I  love  the  analysis  of 
technique.  I  like  to  work  with  people  who  bring  a  certain  serious¬ 
ness  and  depth  to  what  they’re  doing.  I  feel  alive  and  related 
when  I’m  teaching.  I  get  an  emotional  release  from  it.”  The 
reason  why  is  readily  understandable.  “All  my  exercises,”  he  told 
an  interviewer  nearly  a  decade  ago,  “were  designed  to  strengthen 
the  guiding  principle  that  I  learned  forcefully  in  the  Group — 
that  art  expresses  human  experience — which  principle  I  have 
never  and  will  never  give  up:  So  now,  after  about  forty  years,  I 


12 

am  the  possessor  of  a  way  of  working  with  actors  that  in  practice 
seems  to  have  worked  beneficially.”* 

In  1962  Meisner  returned  to  New  York  to  direct  the  acting 
department  of  the  newly  founded  American  Musical  Theatre 
Academy.  Two  years  later,  he  returned  to  the  Neighborhood 
Playhouse,  where  he  remains  today.  Clearly  the  Playhouse  is  a 
haven  to  him  now,  just  as  it  was  when  he  first  began  to  teach 
there  fifty  years  ago  and  announced  his  appointment  in  the  Play¬ 
bill  for  Johnny  Johnson— an  act  perhaps  related  to  announcing  his 
decision  to  become  an  actor  to  his  incredulous  family  at  dinner 
when  he  was  only  nineteen. 

Today,  more  than  sixty  years  later,  advanced  age  and  accidents 
have  produced  awesome’  physical  disabilities  in  Meisner.  He 
wears  thick  glasses  as  a  result  of  multiple  operations  for  cataracts 
and  detached  retinas  of  both  eyes.  Even  more  devastating  have 
been  the  . two  operations  he  sustained  for  cancer  of  the  larynx, 
the.  first  more  than  ten  years  ago,  which  left  him  literally  with¬ 
out  a  voice.  With  great  difficulty  he  subsequently  learned  to 
speak  again  by  inhaling  air  into  his  esophagus  and  releasing  it  in 
controlled  burps.  This  esophageal  speech  may  be  disturbing  to 
those  hearing  it  for  the  first  time,  though  the  listener  quickly 
adapts  to  it.  It  is  a  strangely  disembodied  wheeze  broken  by 
explosive  consonant  sounds  and  glottal  stops,  sometimes  fits  of 
coughing.  When  Meisner  teaches  now,  this  “voice”  is  amplified 
by  a  microphone  attached  to  the  left  temple  of  his  glasses,  and 
connected  to  a  small  transmitter,  which  sends  it  to  a  loudspeaker 
across  the  room  from  his  desk,  thereby  emphasizing  its  eerie, 
disembodied  quality.  As  if  these  blows  had  not  been  enough, 
three  years  ago  an  out-of-control  delivery  truck  struck  him  while 
he  was  Crossing  the  street,  smashing  his  left  femur  and  hip  in 
twelve  places.  After  surgical  reconstruction,  he  walks  stiffly  with 
the  help  of  a  cane.  Now,  during  summer  and  in  the  dead  of 
winter,  he  leaves  New  York  for  a  home  he  and  a  close  friend, 

*  Suzanne  Shepherd,  “Sanford  Meisner,”  Yale/Tbeatre ,  vol.  8,  nos.  2  and  3, 
42-43.  T-  ’ 


13 


SETTING  THE  SCENE:  DUSE'S  BLUSH 

James  Carville,  built  twenty  years  ago  on  the  island  of  Bequia  in 
the  West  Indies.  The  warm  air  and  water  ofthe  tropics  are  a  great 
comfort  to  him. 

..  StillyMeisner  continues  to  teach.  In  his  mind,  he  once  told  an 
interviewer,  he  imagines  himself  to  be  like  “a  well-known 
painter”  (a  reference  to  the  French  artist  Raoul  Dufy,  probably 
as  seen  at  work  in  the  famous  Brassai  photograph).  “When  he  was 
in  his  eighties  his  hands  were  so  crippled  with  arthritis  that  he 
couldn’t  hold  the  brush,  Well,  he  got  someone  to  tape  it  onto  his 
hand  somehow,  and  he  kept  on  painting.  Now,  with  all  my  limi¬ 
tations — I  can’t  talk,  my  eyes  are  bad — I  come  back  to  this  freez¬ 
ing  city  to  teach  again!  Some  people  think  they’ve  talked  me  into 
it.  That’s  not  so.  No  one  can  talk  me  into  anything  that  I  don’t 
want  to  do.  I  want  to  do  it.  I’m  happiest  when  I’m  teaching.”* 

Perhaps  the  reason  why  lies  in  the  miracle  Harold  Clurman 
discussed,  the  “almost  holy”  miracle  of  true  emotion.  Or  perhaps 
it  is  rooted  in  the  statement  Meisner  made,  that  through  the 
genius  of  Pauline  Lord  “I  was  beginning  to  realize  that  acting 
which  really  dug  at  me  was  what  I  was  looking  for.” 

“Did  I  tell  you  the  story  about  Eleonora  Duse?”  Meisner  recently 
asked  a  visitor  to  his  office.  “I  never  told  you  that?”  After  being 
assured  that  he  hadn’t,  he  recounted  George  Bernard  Shaw’s 
1895  review  of  the  legendary  Italian  actress  in  Hermann  Suder- 
mann’s  Heimat  [Home]  (it  was  also  known  as  Magdax  the  role  Duse 
assumed).  This  is  what  Shaw  wrote: 

“Magda  is  a  daughter  who  has  been  turned  out  of  doors  for 
defying  her  father,  one  of  those  outrageous  persons  who  mistake 
their  desire  to  have  everything  their  own  way  in  the  house  for 
a  sacred  principle  of  home  life.  She  has  a  hard  time  of  it,  but  at 
last  makes  a  success  as  an  opera  singer,  though  not  until  her 
lonely  struggles  have  thrown  her  for  sympathy  on  a  fellow  stu¬ 
dent,  who  in  due  time  goe‘s  his  way,  and  leaves  her  to  face  mother- 

*  Shepherd,  loc.  cit. 


14 

hood  as  best  she  can.  In  the  fullness  of  her  fame  she  returns  to 
her  native  town,  and  in  an  attack  of  homesickness  makes  ad¬ 
vances  to  her  father,  who  consents  to  receive  her  again.  No 
sooner  is  she  installed  in  the  house  than  she  finds  that  one  of  the 
most  intimate  friends  of  the  family  is  the  father  of  her  child.  In 
the  third  act  of  the  play  she  is  on  the  stage  when  he  is  announced 
as  a  visitor.  .  .  . 

“The  moment  she  read  the  card  handed  her  by  the  servant,  you 
realized  what  it  was  to  have  to  face  a  meeting  with  the  man.  It 
was  interesting  to  watch  how  she  got  through  it  when  he  came 
in,  and  how,  on  the  whole,  she  got  through  it  pretty  well.  He  paid 
his  compliments  and  offered  his  flowers;  they  sat  down;  and  she 
evidently  felt  that  she  had  got  it  safely  over  and  might  allow 
herself  to  think  at  her  ease,  and  to  look  at  him  to  see  how  much 
he  had  altered.  Then  a  terrible  thing  happened  tp  her.  She  began 
to  blush;  and  in  another  moment  she  was  conscious  of  it,  and  the 
blush  was  slowly  spreading  and  deepening  until,  after  a  few  vain 
efforts  to  avert  her  face  or  to  obstruct  his  view  of  it  without 
seeming  to  do  so,  she  gave  up  and  hid  the  blush  in  her  hands. 
After  that  feat  of  acting  I  did  not  need  to  be  told  why  Duse  does 
not  paint  an  inch  thick.  I  could  detect  no  trick  in  it:  it  seemed  to 
me  a  perfectly  genuine  effect  of  the  dramatic  imagination  .  .  .  and 
I  must  confess  to  an  intense  professional  curiosity  as  to  whether 
it  always  comes  spontaneously.” 

Meisner’s  paraphrase  of  this  account  is  brief,  but  it  is  correct 
in  its  essential  details.  Moreover,  his  enthusiasm  and  genuine 
wonder  at  Shaw’s  story  of  Duse’s  blush,  a  story  he  has  told 
hundreds  of  times,  is  infectious.  It  is  as  though  time  has  stopped, 
and  Sanford  Meisner  can  live  forever  in  the  miracle' of  this  mo¬ 
ment.  For  a  moment,  one  can  understand  how  this  extraordinary 
man  has  lived  such  an  extraordinary  life. 

“Duse  played  in  a  play  called  Magda.  There’s  a  scene  in  the  last 
act.  When  she’s  a  young  girl  she  has  an  affair  with  a  guy  from  the 
same  village,  and  she  has  a  child  by  him.  Twenty-five  years  later, 
or  thereabouts,  she  comes  back  to  visit  her  family  ■yvho  live  in  this 
town,  and  her  ex-lover  comes  to  call  on  her.  She  accepts  his 
flowers — I  got  this  from  Shaw — and  they  sit  and  talk.  All  of  a 
sudden  she  realizes  that  she’s  blushing,  and  it  gets  so  bad  that  she 


15 


SETTING  THE  SCENE:  DUSE'S  BLUSH 


drops  her  head  and  hides  her  face  in  embarrassment.  Now  that’s 
a  piece  of  realistic  acting!  And  Shaw  confesses  to  a  certain  profes¬ 
sional  curiosity  as  to  whether  it  happens  every  time  she  plays  that 
part.  It  doesn’t.  But  that  blush  is  the  epitome  of  living  truthfully 
under  imaginary  circumstances,  which  is  my  definition  of  good 
acting.  That  blush  came  out  of  her.  She  was  a  genius!” 


;  Building  a  Foundation:  The  Reality  of  Doing 

meisner:  What’s  the  first  thing  that  happens  when  they 
build  the  World  Trade  Center — you  know  that  building? 
male  student:  They  dig  a  hole. 

meisner:  Well,  of  course  they  dig  a  hole.  They  don’t  glue  it 
to  the  sidewalk!  [Laughter.  ]  What’s  the  first  thing  they  did 
when  they  built  the  Empire  State  Building? 
female  student:  They  had  to  put  down  a  foundation  .first. 
meisner:  They  had  to  put  down  a  foundation  on  which  .  .  . 
'female  student:  .  .  .  they  built  the  building. 

I  meisner:  .  .  .  they  built  the  building. 


September  29 


“The  foundation  of  acting  is  the  reality  of  doing.” 

It  is  the  first  moment  of  the  first  class  of  the  semester,  and 
without  delay  Sanford  Meisner  states  and  restates  this  seemingly 
simple  theme.  “Wait  a  minute,  let’s  say  that  again.  The  foundation 
of  acting  is  the  reality  of  doing.  The  reality  of  doing.  Now,  how  do 
you  know  what  that  means?  I’ll  clarify  it.”  After  a  brief  pause  he 
asks,  “Are  you  listening  to  me?  Are  you  really  listening  to  me?” 

The  students  respond  in  chorus,  “Yes,  yes.” 

“You’re  not  pretending  that  you’re  listening;  you’re  listening. 
You’re  really  listening.  Would  you  say  so?" 

“Yes,  yes.” 


.  “ That's  the  reality  of  doing.  Let  there  be  no  question  about 
what  I’m  saying  here.  If  you  do  something,  you  really  do  it!  Did 
you  walk  up  the  steps  to  this  classroom  this  morning?  You  didn’t 
jump  up?  You  didn’t  skip  up,  right?  You  didn’t  do  a  ballet  pir¬ 
ouette?  You  really  walked  up  those  steps.” 

He  pauses  to  adjust  the  small  microphone  attached  to  the  left 
temple  of  his  eyeglasses.  “How  many  of  you  are  listening  to  me 
now?”  Sixteen  hands  are  raised  obediently.  “Now,  listen  to  me 
for  a  minute.  Just  for  yourselves,  listen  to  the  number  of  cars  that 
you  hear  outside.  Do  that.” 

The  students,  eight  men  and  eight  women  in  their  twenties 
and  early  thirties,  lean  forward,  straining  to  hear  the  sounds  of 
New  York  City  traffic  filtering  through  the  whir  of  the  air-condi¬ 
tioner.  After  a  moment  some  close  their  eyes.  A  minute  passes. 

“Okay,”  Meisner  says  to  a  young  man  with  a  neat  brown 
beard,  “how  many  cars  did  you  hear?” 

“None,”,  the  student  replies.  “I  heard  a  plane.” 

“A  plane  is  not  a  car.  You  heard  none.  Let  me  ask  you  this:  did 
you  listen  as  yourself  or  were  you  playing  some  character?” 

“As  myself.” 

“What  about  you?”  he  asks  a  thin,  dark  girl  who  looks  like  a 
model. 

“At  first  I  was  listening  as  a  student.” 

“That’s  a  character — ” 

“And  then  I  was  confused  because  I  couldn’t  hear  a  car,  and 
the  sounds  were  confusing.  Then  I  heard  what  I’m  pretty  sure 
was  a  car,  and  then  I  got  bored,  and  then  I  heard  another  car.  So 
I  heard  two  cars.” 

“We  won’t  discuss  the  boredom.”  The  class  laughs.  “Were  you, 
as  you  said,  listening — what’s  your  name?” 

“Anna.” 

“Were  you  listening  as.  Anna?” 

“At  the  end.” 

“So  part  of  your  acting  was  legitimate  and  two-thirds  of  it  was 
pretending.” 

“Yes.” 

“How  many  cars  did  you  hear?”  The  question  is  directed 


to  a  woman  in  her  late  twenties  with  luxurious  dark  hair. 
“1  couldn’t  be  sure  which  sounds  were  cars.” 

“Were  you  really  puzzled,  or  were  you.puzzled  in  character? 

“I  don’t  know.  It  felt  as  though  I  was  not  quite  doing  some¬ 
thing  all  the  time.”  ■  '  . 

“So  you  were  half  an  actress.”  Then,  to  a  young  man  in  a  plaid 
wool  shirt  and  jeans,  “How  many  cars  did  you  hear? 

“None.”  ' 

.  “None.  Did  you  listen  as — ” 

“I  listened  as  me,  just  as  John.” 

“That’s  what  I  want  to  know.  It’s  a  nice  feeling.  Okay,  now 
choose  a,  melody  that  you  like  and  sing  it  to  yourself  just  to 
yourself,  not  out  loud.  Clear?  Do  it.” 

Again  some  students  close  their  eyes,  and  after  a  few  seconds 
of  concentration  heads  begin  bobbing,  marking  time  to  melodies 
only  individually  heard. 

“How  many  people  were  doing  it?  Meisner  asks.  For  your¬ 
selves  or  theatrically?  Who  can  answer  that? 

“Half  and  half.”  It  is  the  young  woman  called  Anna. 

“You  have  a  problem.  What’s  your  problem?” 

“I  was  very  aware  of  being  in  a  room  filled  with  people  con¬ 
sciously  listening  to  different  melodies.  About  halfway  through 
I  got  so  upset  with  myself  that  I  was  able  to  forget  about  it. 
“And  sing?” 

“Yes.”  , 

“That’s  when  you  were  good.” 

“That’s  when  I  enjoyed  it,  I  don’t  know  if  I  was  good.” 

“It’s  always  enjoyable  to  be  good.”  He  pauses  a  moment  and 
shifts  his  gaze  to  a  stocky,  blond,  boyish  young  man  in  the  front 
row.  “What  about  you?” 

“I  was  singing  to  myself.” 

“Like  Hamlet?”  , 

“I  was  trying  to  enjoy  the  melody.  ’ 

“You  were?  For  yourself,  not  as  Hamlet? 

“For  myselfi”  * 

Next  Meisner  asks  the  class  to  count  the  number  of  light  bulbs 
in  the  room.  The  answers  range  between  twelve  and  sixteen, 


BUILDING  A  FOUNDATION.  THE  REALITY  OF  DOING  1  9 

depending  on  whether  one  includes  the  red  bulb  over  the  fire- 
escape  exit  sign  or  excludes  the  three  unlit  floodlights  angled 
down  from  a  beam  in  the  middle  of  the  ceiling.  The  answers  are 
unimportant;  what  is  crucial  is  the  doing  of  the  task,  the  counting 
of  the  light  bulbs,  not  the  results.  “Did  you  count  in  character 
— theatrically,”  Meisner  asks,  “or  did  you  count? 

“Nine  hundred  and  thirty-one  times  eighteen — try  to  do  that 
in  your  head,”  he  goes  on.  “Nine  thirty-one  times  eighteen.”  The 
correct  answer  is  16,758,  and  no  one  even  comes  close  to  figuring 
it  out.  Again,  that’s  not  the  point.  “You  may  be  right,  you  may 
be  wrong,”  Meisner  says.  “That’s  like  life.  People  come  to  differ¬ 
ent  conclusions.  That’s  why  some  are  Democrats  and  some  are 
Republicans.  But  how  many  tried?  You  know,  it’s  all  right  to  be 
wrong,  but  it’s  not  all  right  not  to  try.  ” 


“Look,”  Meisner  says,  “examine  the  partner  sitting  next  to  you. 
And  give  me,  when  I  ask  for  it,  a  list  of  what  you  observe.” 
Sixteen  heads  turn  to  scan  the  person  now  called,  for  the  first 
time,  “the  partner.” 

When  she  is  asked,  the  blond  girl  in  the  second  row  says  about 
the  young  man  seated  to  her  right:  “I  observed  red  hair.  I  ob¬ 
served  a  soft  green  shirt  which  had  pink  and  gray  and  beige 
stripes  and  that  was  a  size  medium.  I  observed  a  rash  on  his  neck. 
He  has  blue  eyes  and  short,  thin,  lighter-colored  eyelashes.  Small 
hands.  Kind  of  burly.  Leans  over  a  lot.  Stocky.  Green  pants. 
Brown  shoes — leather,  with  rubber  soles,  I  think.  Clean  ears  and 
clean  fingernails.  Small  lips  that  stay  closed  and  mostly  turn 
under — ” 

“Okay.  Was  this  observation  done  by  you  or  by  some  character 
out  of  a  play?” 

“I  don’t  know  the  answer.  In  honesty,  I  can’t  quite  distinguish 
which  is  which.” 

“Are  you  talking  to  me  now,  or  is  Lady  Macbeth  talking?” 

“I’m  talking  to  you.” 

“That’s  you.  That’s  you  in  person.  Your  observation  was 
straight,  unadulterated  observation.  What  you  observed,  you  ob- 


20  - 

served,  not  a  character  in  a  play.”  He  asks  John,  the  young  man 
in  the  plaid  shirt,  “Are  you  looking  at  me  now?” 

“Yes.” 

“As  Othello?” 

“No.”  • 

“As  who?” 

“As  myself,  I  guess.” 

“That’s  right.  Can  you  hold  on  to  that?” 

“I  want  to  ask  you  a  question  and  I  want  you,  please,  for  your 
own  sake  as  well  as  mine,  to  tell  the  truth.  How  many  people  in 
this  class  can  hear  very  well?”  After  a  moment’s  confusion,  six¬ 
teen  hands  are  raised.  “Now  listen,  I’m  holding  you  to  some¬ 
thing.  Everybody  says  he  or  she  can  hear.  You  can  hear?  You  can 
hear  me?” 

They  answer,  “Yes.” 

“I  want  to  ask  you  another  question,  one  a  little  more  difficult. 
You  say  you  can  hear.  That’s  good.  Can  you  repeat  what  you  hear 
absolutely  accurately?  I’m  talking  simply.  I  don’t  mean  the  Dec¬ 
laration  of  Independence.  I  mean,  ‘Do  you  drink  coffee?’  Can  you 
repeat  that?”  ■ 

“Do  you  drink  coffee?”  asks  a  young  woman  with  short, 
brown,  layered  hair.  ■ 

“You  did  that,  so  you  can.  Now,  do  you  know  what  you’re 
telling  me?  First  of  all,  you  said  you  can  hear.  You  also  said  you 
can  repeat  what  you  hear.  You  can  take  it  back  if  you  want  to! 
All  right;  I  accept.” 

“We  can  repeat  the  words,”  says  a  dark,  broad-shouldered 
young  woman. 

“That’s  all  I  ask — not  the  spirit,  just  the  words.” 

“No,”  says  the  woman.  “I  meant  we  can’t  repeat  exactly  what 
we  hear.  We  can  only  repeat  our  own  representation  of  the 
words.” 

“You  can  repeat  exactly  what  you  hear.  Want  me  to  prove  it 
to  you?” 

“I  believe  you.” 

“What’s  your  name?” 


BUILDING  A  FOUNDATION:  THE  REALITY  OF  DOING  2  i 

“Rose  Marie.” 

“Rose  Marie,  why  should  you  believe  me?  ‘Your  hair  is  long.’ 
Repeat  that." 

“Your  hair  is  long.”1  u.  . 

“So  you  can  do  it!  You  see,  I  did  not  recite  the  first  act  of  Uncle 
Vanya,  which  perhaps  you  have  never  heard  before.  Now,  who’s 
your  partner?”  John,  the  young  man  in  the  plaid  shirt,  raises  his 
hand.  “Now,,  look  at  her.  What  do  you  observe  about  her?  Not 
her  spirit,  but  something  about  her  that  has  some  interest  for 
you.” 

“She’s  very  ...  I  was  going  to  say  she’s  very  fresh  and  open.” 

“That’s  an  emotional  observation.  I’m  not  quite  that  smart.  I 
see  that  she  has  a  pink  sweater.” 

“Okay.” 

“I’m  going  to  tell  you  something.  You’re  a  thinker.” 

“I  know,”  John  says,  “that’s  why  I’m  here.” 

“Then  stop  immediately!”  The  class  laughs.  “Do  you  see  that 
she  has  a  pink  sweater?  Do  you  see  that  her  hair  needs  combing? 
Do  you  see  the  color  of  her  slacks?” 

“Yes.” 

“Now,  you  told  me  that  you  can  hear  and  you  told  me  that  you 
can  repeat,  which  means  that,  starting  with  something  that  exists 
in  her,  you  should  find  what  interests  you  and  make  a  comment. 
Then,  Rose  Marie,  you  repeat  exactly  what  he  says,  and  you, 
John,  repeat  exactly  what  she  says.  Do  this  until  I  stop  you.” 

“Your,  hair  is  shiny,”  John  says. 

“Your  hair  is  shiny,”  Rose  Marie  repeats. 

“Your  hair  is  shiny.” 

“Your  hair  is  shiny.” 

“Your  hair  is  shiny.” 

“Your  hair  is  shiny.” 

“Your  hair  is  shiny.” 

“No,”  says  Meisner  stopping  them,  “you’re  making  readings 
in  order  to  create  variety.  Don’t.  Do  it  again,  using  another 
observation.”  ■ 

After  a  moment  John  says,  “Your  earring  is  small,”  and  Rose 
Marie  says,  “Your  earring  is  small.”  They  repeat  the  sentence 
five  or  six  times  until  Meisner  stops  them. 


“Okay,  now  I  believe  that  you  can  both  hear,  and  I  believe  that 
you  can  repeat  what  you  hear.  It’s  not  the  whole  story,  but  it’s 
the  beginning  of  something.  You  observed  her  earrings.  You 
commented  on  them.  You  repeated  what  you  heard.  So  far  you 
were  listening  to  each  other  and  were  repeating  what  you  heard. 
That’s  what  I  asked  you  to  do." 

The  students  pair  off,  and  the  exercise,  which  Meisner.calls  the 
Word  Repetition  Game,  is  performed  again  and  again.  The  boy¬ 
ish,  blond  young  man,  whose  name  is  Philip,  becomes  the  partner 
of  the  brunette  with  the  layered  haircut,  whose  name  is  Sarah. 
They  repeat  his  comment,  “Your  eyes  are  blue,”  over  and  over 
until  Meisner  stops  them. 

“All  right,”  he  says.  “This  probably  seems  unbelievably  silly, 
doesn’t  it?  But  it’s  the  beginning  of  something.  Are  you  listening 
to  each  other?  Are  you  repeating  what  you  hear?  You  are.” 

After  another  couple  repeat  “You  have  bright  earrings,”  he 
says,  “It’s  mechanical,  it’s  inhuman,  but  it’s  the  basis  for  some¬ 
thing.  It’s  monotonous,  but  it’s  the  basis  for  something.” 

After  Anna  and  her  partner  repeat  “Your  shirt  has  bright  pink 
lettering  on  it”  a  dozen  or  mote  times,  he  says,  “Yes,  that’s  cor¬ 
rect.  It’s  empty,  it’.s  inhuman,- right?  But  it  has  something  in  it. 
It  has  connection.  Aren’t  they  listening  to  each  other?  That’s  the 
connection.  It’s  a  connection  which  comes  from  listening  to  each 
other,  but  it  has  no  human  quality— yet.  If  you  want  to  take 
notes,  write  down  ‘This  is  a  Ping-Pong  game.’  It  is  the  basis  of 
what  eventually  becomes  emotional  dialogue.” 

Meisner  pauses  for  a  moment.  “Now  I’m  going  to  show  you 
where  the  trouble  comes  in.”  He  turns  to  a  young  woman  wear¬ 
ing  her  brown  hair  in  a  thick  braid.  “You  have  an  embroidered 
blouse.  Is  that  true?” 

“No.” 

“Then  what’s  the  answer?” 

“No,  I  do  not  have  an  embroidered  blouse.” 

“That’s  right!”  he  says.  “That  is  the  repetition  from  her  point 
of  view.  Immediately  it  becomes  a  contact  between  two  human 
beings.”  He  says  to  Sarah,  “You’re  carrying  a  pen.” 

“Yes,  I’m  carrying  a  pen.” 


23 


BUILDING  A  FOUNDATION:  THE  REALITY  OF  DOING 


“Yes,  you  are.” 

“Yes,  l  am.” 

_  “That’s  right!  Already  it  has  become  human  speech,  hasn’t  it? 
First,  there’s  the  mechanical  repetition.  Then  there’s  the  repeti¬ 
tion  from  your  point  of  view.”  He  looks  at  the  youhg  woman 
with  the  luxurious  dark  hair.  “You  curl  your  hair.” 

“Yes,  I  curl  my  hair.” 

“Yes,  you  do.”  • 

“Yes,  I  curl  my  hair.” 

“I  said,  ‘Yes,  you  do.’  ” 

“Yes,  I  do.” 

“Yes,  I  can  see  you  do.” 

“Yes,  you  can  see  I  do.” 

“Let  it  go  at  that.  That’s  the  Word  Repetition  Game  from  your 
point  of  view.  That’s  already  human  conversation,  isn’t  it?” 
Then,  to  the  young  man  whose  shirt  has  bright  pink  lettering  on 
it,  Meisner  says,  “You’re  staring  at  me.” 

“I’m  staring  at  you.” 

“You’re  staring  at  me.” 

“I’m  staring  at  you.” 

“You  admit  it?” 

“I  admit  it.” 

“You  admit  it.” 

“I  admit  it.” 

“I  don’t  like  it.” 

“You  don’t  like  it.” 

“You  don’t  care?” 

“I  don’t  care.” 

“You  don’t  care?” 

“I  don’t  care!” 

Meisner  sticks  out  his  tongue  at  the  young  man,  and  he  and  the 
class  laugh. 

“That’s  the  Word  Repetition  Game.  It  mustn’t  go  too  far;  I 
won’t  let  it.  Now,  when  you  work  together  at  home,  do  the 
exercise  mechanically,  the  way  you  started  it.  Then  practice 
doing  it  from  your  point  of  view.” 


V 


“I  started  this  class  by  saying  that  the  basis  of  acting  is  the  reality 
of  doing.  How  does  that  definition  compare  with  what  we’ve 
been  doing?” 

John  says,  “If  we  simply  do  it,  we’re  not  jfocusing  on  our¬ 
selves.” 

“You’re  attached  to  something  outside  of  yourself,”  Meisner 
adds.  “What  else?” 

“If  you’re  really  doing  it,  then  you  don’t  have  time  to  watch 
yourself  doing  it.  You  only  have  the  time  and  energy  to  do  it,” 
says  Ray,  the  young  man  with  the  neat  beard. 

“That’s  very  good  for  your  acting.  Anything  else?” 

Sarah  says,  “They  all  seem  to  be  very  concrete,  ‘do-able’ 
things.” 

“Everything  I’ve  asked  you  has  been  concrete  and  ‘do-able’? 
What  about  that  word ‘concrete’?” 

“Well,  it’s  tangible.  You  can  look  at  somebody  and  actually 
count  their  eyelashes  or  you  can  count  the  light  bulbs.” 

“Something  that  really,  really' exists  specifically,”  Meisner  says. 
Now,  what  does  ‘the  reality  of  doing’  mean?” 

An  intense-looking  young  man  who  has  not  spoken  before 
says,  “When  you  do  something  you  really  do  it  rather  than  pre¬ 
tend  that  you’re  doing  it.” 

“And  you  don ’t  do  it  like  a  character.  When  you. play  the  piano, 
do  you  open  the  lid  first,  or  do  you  just  play  it  closed?”  Meisner 
asks.  “Well,  musically  speaking,  the  opening  of  the  piano  is  simi¬ 
lar  to  the  reality  of  doing.  Are  there  any  questions  here?” 

“You  gave  us  things  to  do  that  you  can  really  do,  like  observing 
another  person  or  listening  to  cars,”  says  Ray.  “And  if  you’re 
really  concentrated  on  just  listening  to  cars  or  looking  at  a  per¬ 
son,  you  don’t  have  to  worry  about  being  a  character.  You  have 
one  thing  to  do  and  concentrate  on.” 

“That  is  the  character.” 

“That’s  the  character?”  Ray  asks; 

“Yes.” 

“So  you  don’t  have  to  play  at  being  the  character,  it’s  right 
there  in  your  doing  it.” 


25 


BUILDING  A  FOUNDATION:  THE  REALITY  OF  DOING 

“Right.  Do  you  understand  that?  Every  play,  whether  it’s  by 
that  comedy  writer — what’s  his  name?” 

“Neil  Simon?” 

“Yeah.  Every  play  is  based  upon  the  reality  of  doing.  Even 
Lear’s  shaking  his  fist  at  the  heavens — that’s  based  on  the  actor 
thundering  against  fate.  Can  you  see  that?”  He  pauses.  “This  will 
go  further  in  you  than  you  may  suspect  at  the  moment.  That  s 
all  right.  It  will  unveil  itself.  It  will  reveal  itself  gradually.  It  is 
the  basis,  the  foundation  of  acting.” 

I! 

“Another  beginning.  You’d  think  I’d  quit!”  Meisner  says  to  his. 
assistant,  Scott  Roberts,  as  they  wait  for  the  elevator  which  will 
take  them  to  Meisner’s  paneled  office  one  floor  below  the  class¬ 
room.  “Somebody  should  shoot  me  as  they  do  aged  horses.” 

Scott  nods  and  smiles. 

“But,  you  know,  this  class  is  an  attractive  group,  and  full  of 
promise.  The  question  is,  how  many  of  them  will  learn  to  act?” 

Scott  nods  again  and  pushes  the  button  for  the  elevator  one 
more  time.  In  the  basement  an  electric  motor  drones  into  life. 

“I’ve  been  teaching  for  over  fifty  years  and  in  that  near  eternity 
I  have  attempted  to  teach  literally  thousands  of  young  people 
how  to  act.  And  I  haven’t  done  too  badly.  I  did  well  with  you, 
for  example.” 

“Thank  you,”  Scott  says. 

“But  if  I  chose  to  dwell  on  my  overall  success  rate,  I’d  probably 
give  up,  so  I  don’t.” 

The  elevator  arrives  and  they  enter  it. 

“Acting  is  an  art.  And  teaching  acting  is  an  art  too,  or  it  can 
be.  Ultimately  it’s  a  question  of  talent — of  theirs  meshing  with 
mine.  So  time  will  tell.  But  I  must  say,  it’s  good  to  begin  again!” 


ime  here. 

l  desk  where  Meisner  is  seated 
n  Vincent  takes,his  place  with 
re  room.  He  takes  a  few  coins 
irops  them  on  the  floor, 
na  asks. 


27 


B(NJ)fTHE  OUCH 

>ped  some  coins.” 
you  dropped  some  coins.” 
tpf&Yeah,  I  dropped  some  coins.” 

#'“Yeah,  you  dropped  some  coins.” 

“All  right,  now  listen  to  me,”  Meisner  says  interrupting  the 
repetition.  “Vince,  I  maintain  that  by  this  time  you  should  have 
realized  that  she  has  good  ears  and  told  her  so.  It  would  have  been 
something  you  said  because  something  she  did  made  you  do  it. 
And  you,  Anna,  had  the  right  by  this  time  to  observe  that  because 
he  dropped  some  coins  he’s  careless  with  his  money.” 

“That  would  be  an  assumption,”  says  Vincent  defensively. 
“It  would  be  an  assumption  which  you  could  deny.  ‘I  am  not 
careless  with  my  money!’  Do  you  follow?” 

“Yes.” 

“All  right.  Use  something  new  and  begin  again,  slowly.” 
After  a  moment,  Anna  elbows  Vincent  in  the  back. 

“You  poked  me  in  the  back!” 

“I  poked  you  in  the  back.” 

“You  poked  me  in  the  back.” 

“Yes,  I  poked  you  in  the  back.” 

“Yes,  you  poked  me  in  the  back.” 

“Yes,”  she  says,  amused  at  his  displeasure,  “I  poked  you  in  the 
back.” 

“What’s  funny?”  he  snaps. 

“What’s  funny?” 

“What’s  funny?”  he  repeats. 

“What’s  funny?” 

“What's  funny?”  Vincent  says  with  unnatural  stress  on  the  first 
word.  Meisner  interrupts  them  immediately. 

“No!  That’s  a  reading!  Until  then  it  was  very  good,  but  ‘J What's 
funny?’  was  a  way  of  creating  variety.  I’ll  show  you  something. 
There  is  a  time  when  the  verbal  contact  between  you  changes, 
and  it  is  based  on  instinct.  Instinct.  I’ll  show  you  what  I  mean  by 
that.  Imagine,  Vince,  that  you  walk  into  a  department  store  with 
a  friend  of  yours,  and  you  say,  ‘Do  you  see  that  tie?  I  want  it!’  Or 
you  go  to  a  party  and  across  the  room  you  see  a  girl  and  you  say 
to  yourself,  ‘I’m  going  to  have  her!’  That  comes  from  your  in¬ 
stincts.  Do  you  follow? 


“Now,  in  this  exercise  there  is  a  change  in  the  words  that  is-  ' 
dictated  by  your  instinct.  I’ll  show  you  how  it  works.”  He  leans 
toward  Vincent  and  says  sotto  voce,  “Vince,  whatever  I  ask  you 
for,  the  answer  is  ‘No.’  ”  Then,  in  full  voice  he  says,  “Can  you 
lend  me  twenty  dollars?” 

“Can  I  lend  you  twenty  dollars?” 

“Can  you  lend  me  twenty  dollars?” 

“No,  I  can’t  lend  you  twenty  dollars.” 

“You  can’t  lend  me  twenty  dollars?” 

“I  can’t  lend  you  twenty  dollars.” 

“You  can’t?” 

“I  can’t.” 

“You  can’t?” 

“I  can’t!” 

“You’re  a  big  shit!” 

“I’m  a  big  shit!”  ■  ■  <  ,  • 

“That’s  what  I  said!”  The  class  laughs,  and  when  the  laughter 
ends  Meisner  adds,  “Now,  that  change  was  caused  by  instinct.” 

After  a  moment  he  peers  at  Anna,  comically  leering  at  her 
from  behind  his  thick  lenses.  “Will  you  come  to  my  house  to¬ 
night?” 

“Will  I  come  to  your  house  tonight?” 

“Will  you  come  to  my  house  tonight?” 

“Will  I  come  to  your  house  tonight?” 

“Will  you  come  to  my  house  tonight?” 

“No,  I  will  not  come  to  your  house  tonight.” 

“You  won’t  come  to  my  house  tonight?”  He  gives  her  a  wither¬ 
ing,  scornful  look.  “You’re  a  professional  virgin!” 

There  is  another -burst  of  laughter. 

“Now  let’s  talk  about  that.  When  is  something  instinctive 
caused  in  you?  How  does  it  happen?” 

“It  lives  in  you,”  Vincent  says.  “It  hits  you  a  certain  way.” 

“That’s  right.  You  wouldn’t  lend  me  twenty  dollars,  so  I  called 
you  a  big  shit.  She  said  she  wouldn’t  come  to  my  house  in  such 
a  way  that  my  instinct  tells  me  that  she’s  a  professional  virgin. 
Now,  that  happens  in  an  exercise,  which  changes  the  dialogue. 
The  instinct  changes  the  dialogue.  Then  it  continues  and  you 


r  wait  until  the  instinct  changes  it  again.  Any  questions  here? 
f  Ray?”  •  .  . 

“What  if  your  partner  is  doing  nothing,”  asks  Ray,  “and  your 
instincts  tell  you  that  this  is  aggravating?” 

“Use  it!”  • 

“Then  you  can  say,  ‘But  you’re  not  doing  anything!’  ” 

“Or,  ‘You’re  aggravating  me!’  ” 

“  ‘You’re  aggravating  me!’  So  it’s  really  like  there’s  never  noth¬ 
ing."  ^  ■  A- I,  • 

“There’s  no  such  thing,”  Meisner  says,  “there’s  no  such  thing 
as  nothing.  There  V  no  such  thing  as  nothing :  There 's  no  such  thing  as 
nothing.  ”  . 

“What  about  silence?”  Sarah  asks. 

“Listen,  silence  is  a  moment.  A  moment  of  silence  is  some¬ 
thing,  too.  Let  me  prove  it  to  you.  Ask  me  whether  I  think  you 
have  talent.”  ' 

“Mr.  Meisner,  do  you  think  I  have  talent?” 

His  head  cocks  away  from  her  and  he  maintains  a  complete 
silence.  The  class  begins  to  laugh. 

“That  was  silent,  wasn’t  it?”  Meisner  asks  when  the  laughter 
subsides. 

“Well,  yes  .  .  says  Sarah,  at  a  loss  for  words. 

“That’s  the  point,  the  ‘Well,  yes  .  .  .’  It’s  the  point  because  my 
silence  was  very  expressive,”  Meisner  says. “Silence  has  a  myriad 
of  meanings.  In  the  theater  silence  is  an  absence  of  words,  but 
never  an  absence  of  meaning.” 

There  is  a  slight  pause. 

“Do  you  mean  that  I  don’t  have  to  look  at  my  partner  when 
we’re  doing  the  repetition  and  just  say,  ‘You  have  a  gray  shirt  on, 
you  have  a  gray  shirt  on’?”  asks  Rose  Marie.  “If  he  looks  bored 
I  could  say,  ‘You  look  bored’?  I  could  make  a  judgment?” 

“Of  his  behavior,  yes.  There  comes  a  point  when  one  of  you 
has  to  pick  up  what  the  repetition  is  doing  to  you.  I  don’t  care 
what  it  is.  Are  you  bored  with  the  repetition?  Then  that  could 
be  the  change.  Or  maybe  your  partner  sounds  a  little  annoyed  at 
you;  from  that  fact  could  come  the  change  ‘You’re  angry  at  me.’ 
In  other  words,  your  instinct  picks  up  the  change  in  his  behavior 


and  the  dialogue  changes  too.  I’m  talking  about  instinct.  You 
walk  into  a  store  and  see  a  dress.  ‘That’s  for  me!’  That’s  instinct. 
I  say  that  if  you  take  your  time,  the  change  in  you,  which  is — 
I  don’t  like  to  say  ‘automatic,’  I  don’t  Jike  that  word — which  is 
spontaneous,  will  happen.  That’s  what  you  should  work  on  now. 
Let  your  instincts  dictate  the  changes,  not  just  the  repetition.” 


“We  began  by  discussing  instinct.  Now  let’s  discuss  where  talent 
comes  from.  It  is  my  belief  that  talent  comes  from  instinct.  What 
does  that  mean?  Can  anybody  explain?” 

Rose  Marie  holds  up  her  hand.  “I  think  we  all  really  have  the 
same  instincts,  and  if  we  allow  ourselves  to  be  simple  and  unclut¬ 
tered,  then  those  instincts  or  talent  will  appear.  If  you  allow 
yourself  to  be  open  and  honest.” 

“Ah,”  Meisner  says,  “but  the  tendency  nowadayses  to  follow 
your  instincts  only  when  they  are  socially  acceptable.  We  fear 
being  branded  as  uncivilized  for  liking  or  disliking  something. 
Think  of  the  girl  from  Miss  Finch’s  School.  She  was  taught  to  say 
only  what  was  acceptable  socially.  A  girl  from  Miss  Finch’s 
School  goes  to  see  her  friend  in  a  play,  and  her  real  reaction  is 
that  the  performance  was  terrible.  Yet  when  she  goes  backstage 
she  smiles  and  through  gritted  teeth  says,  ‘ Marvelous !’  ” 

The  class  laughs  at  Meisner’s  accurate  impersonation  of  a  deb¬ 
utante  from  Westchester. 

“You  can  see  the  jaw  tense  to  keep  the  real,  instinctive  remark 
from  coming  out.  That’s  not  good  for  actors.  Can  you  see  where 
that  controlling  is  the  opposite  of  the  spontaneous,  deeply  in¬ 
stinctive  behavior  we’re  talking  about?” 


Wendy  and  Jim,  a  pale  blond  pair  in  their  early  twenties,  begin 
to  perform  the  Word  Repetition  Game.  After  a  few  minutes, 
Meisner  interrupts. 

“Wait  a  minute,  both  of  you.  Wendy,  you’re  being  self- 
manipulative.  Do  you  know  what  that  means?” 

“Yeah,  but  I  don’t  know  why  you’re  saying  it.” 

“I’m  saying  it  because  you’re  doing  it.  You’ve  got  control  over 


31 


JrHi^INCH  AND  THE  OUCH 

Iwhat  you’re  saying,  and  I  say  he  has  to  have  the  control.  What 
you’re  doing  is  self-manipulative.  Do  you  understand?” 

“Doesn’t  he  have  to  take  that  control?” 

“What?” 

“You  said  I  was  controlling  us.  Isn’t  he  responsible  for  that 
too?” 

“His  responsibility  is  to  repeat,  as  is  yours.  You’re  really  work¬ 
ing  from  your  head.  You’re  not  getting  this  exercise  because  you 
think  that  you  have  to  manipulate  verbal  responses,  whereas  all 
you  really  have  to  do  is  repeat  what  you  get  from  him.  If  you 
repeat  what  you  get  from  him,  you  won’t  be  at  a  loss  for  some¬ 
thing  to  say.  Your  head  is  figuring  out  what  to  say,  figuring  out 
what  to  do  next.  How  do  you  get  away  from  that?” 

“By  not  thinking  about  it.  I  understand  that  because  I’m  a 
dancer,  and  when  I’m  good  I  don’t  think  about  my  steps  any 
more  because  I  know  how  to  do  them.  It  just  happens.” 

“It  has  to  happen  here  too,  you  follow?  Jim,  you  have  some¬ 
thing  of  the  same  problem.  Not  as  much,  but  something.  How 
do  you  correct  that?” 

“As  you  say,  don’t  think.  Just  try  to  take  what’s  there.” 

“Listen.  I’d  suggest  going  on  with  the  word  repetition,  just 
working  off  each  other,  and  the  more  brainless  it  is  the  chances 
are  the  better  off  you’ll  be.  It’s  a  question  of  repeating  what  you 
hear.  Don’t  make  up  anything;  you’re  better  off  saying,  ‘I’m 
stuck,  let’s  quit.’  Then  begin  again  from  another  angle.  Thinking 
has  no  part  in  this  process.” 

After  a  moment  Meisner  asks,  “Wendy,  how  do  you  feel?” 

“I  feel .  .  .  See,  I  never  thought  that  I  thought  a  lot,  but  I  guess 
I  do.  So  I  guess  it’s  good  that  I  realize  this  before  I  get  into 
trouble.  It’s  good.  It’s  easier  not  to  think,  I  guess.” 

“Work  from  your  instincts,”  Meisner  says.  “That’s  what  we 
were  talking  about.  Okay?” 


October  6 

“Joseph,  you’re  doing  something  that  you  have  to  throw  away 
right  now.  You’re  compounding  the  moments,  see?  If  she  said, 


32  .  '  sATT 

‘You’ve  got  a  cold,’  you’d  answer,  ‘Yes,  I  have  a  cold,  I  got  wet. 
That’s  two  moments,  one  of  which  is  an  intellectual  explanation 
of  the  first  instead  of  simply  repeating  what  you  get  from  your 
partner.  If  she  said,  ‘Your  jaw  is  tense,’  you  d  answer,  Yes,  my 
jaw  is  tense.  I’m  nervous.  ’  Those  are  two  moments. 

“Are  you  saying  I  should  leave  it  as  ‘Yes,  my  jaw  is 

tense’?”  -  -  >  ;  . 

“One  moment,  one  note  at  a  time.  Do  you  understand? 

“Yes."  .  :'-V' 

“Also,  you  overdo  the  word  repetition.  You  comment  on  some¬ 
thing  you  notice  about  her  but  if  you  get  no  answer,  you  repeat 
it  as  if  it  were  necessary  for  her  to  respond  to  what  you  say 
instead  of  using  her  silence.  I’ll  show  you  what  I  mean. 

He  leans  over  to  Anna,  who  is  seated  near  his  right 
hand,  and  whispers,  “Don’t  answer  me.”  Then,  fixing  her  with 
his  gaze  and  pointing  to  her  necklace,  he  asks,  “Is  that  a  gold 
chain?”  - 

Anna  regards  him  without  moving  and  in  silence. 

“Is  that  a  gold  chain?”  Meisner  repeats  mechanically.  He  waits 
for  her  answer,  which  does  not  come.  “You  see,  Joseph,  that  s 
what  you  did.  You  said  the  same  thing  twice.  Now,  1 11  show  you 
something.”  • 

Again  he  looks  at  Anna.  “Is  that  a  gold  chain?”  he  asks.  Again 
she  regards  him  silently,  but  this  time  Meisner  waits  for  her 
response  until,  Out  of  exasperation,  he  shouts,  “Don’t  look  at  me 
as  if  I’m  crazy!” 

Josephnods,  and  Meisner  continues.  “You  should  use  her  si¬ 
lence  for  a  new  moment  instead  of  repeating  it.” 

“The  moment  has  changed?” 

“The  moment  has  changed  because  of  her  silence.  Do  you  get 
that?” 

“Yes.” 

“Ask  me  if  we  are  going  to  have  a  class  next  Thursday. 

“Mr.  Meisner,  are  we  going  to  have  a  class  next  Thursday? 

He  ignores  Joseph’s  question,  staring  coldly  off  into  space.  The 
silence  becomes  painful,  and  finally  Joseph  says  ruefully,  I  guess 
we’re  not.” 


THE  PINCH  AND  THE  OUCH 


33 


“Or,”  Meisner  says  with  a  pointed  smile,  “  ‘Aren’t  we  on 
speaking  terms?’ ” 

Joseph  nods. 

“Did  you  get  that?” 

“Yes,  I  understand.” 

“I  thought  you  did.” 


“Listen,  Philip,  you  have  some  kind  of  cockeyed  idea  that  acting 
is  an  imitation  of  life.” 

His  exercise  interrupted,  Philip,  the  stocky,  blond,  boyish 
young  man,  chews  his  lower  lip  nervously.  Meisner  speaks 
slowly  and  with  great  firmness. 

“You  try  to  be  logical,  as  in  life.  You  try  to  be  polite,  as  in  life. 
May  I  say,  as  the  world’s  oldest  living  teacher,  1 Fuck  polite!’  ” 
Meisner  says  passionately.  “You  have  one  thing  to  do,  and  that 
is  to  pick  up  the  repetition  from  your  partner.  And  if  he  sticks 
his  tongue  out,  that’s  not  polite.  That’s  not  grownup.  It’s  not  the 
way  people  your  age  act.  But  you’ve  got  to  do  it!” 

“You  mean  go  with  it.” 

“Yes!  And  if  your  mother  hits  you,  retaliate!” 

“I  will  I’ve  got  to  be  around  people  who  aren’t  so  polite.” 

“You’ve  got  to  be  around  people  who  follow  their  instincts.” 

“I  know  that’s  my  next  step,  to  find  a  person  who  follows  his 
instincts.” 

“No,”  Meisner  says,  “it’s  in  you!  They  all  have  it.  Can’t  you  see 
that?”  He  makes  a  sweeping  gesture  indicating  the  whole  class. 
“Whatever  your  partner  does,  you  imitate  it— right,  wrong,  po¬ 
lite  or  whatever.  I  tell  you  this:  you  cannot  be  a  gentleman  and 
be  an  actor.  And  you’ve  got  the  idea  that  you’re  a  gentle¬ 
man.” 

“Yes.”  ' 

“Forget  about  it!”  A- 

“I’ll  try.” 

“Where  did  you  get  this  delusion  that  you’re  a  logical  gentle¬ 
man?” 

“People  just  kept  saying,  ‘You’re  a  gentleman,  you’re  a  gen- 


34 


tleman,”  and  after  a  while  I  must  have  listened  to  them.” 

“Philip,  do  yourself  a  favor.  Kick  them  in  the  ass!” 

“Today  we’re  going  to  talk  about  beginnings.  I  have  an  exercise 
that  I’m  going  to  demonstrate  to  you.  It  is  basic  and  vital,  and  it 
may  clarify  something.  John,  stand  up.  I  want  to  show  you  where 
you  begin.  There  are  two  basic  principles  involved  here,  which 
you  can  write  down  if  you  wish.” 

He  leaves  the  desk  to  stand  beside  John,  who  is  a  head  taller 
than  he,. 

“'Don't  do  anything  unless  something  happens  to  make  you  do 
it.  ’  That’s  one  of  them.  The  second  is:  ‘ What  you  do  doesn  t  de¬ 
pend  on  you;  it  depends  on  the  other  fellow.  ’  John,”  he  asks,  “how  are 
you  on  learning  a  script?  Are  you  jpretty  good?  You’re  fast? 
Here’s  your  text:  ‘Mr.  Meisner.’  Can  you  learn  that?  Can  I  hear 
that?” 

“  ‘Mr.  Meisner,”’  John  says  simply. 

“Not  bad.”  The  class  laughs.  “Now,  I  said  don’t  do  anything 
until  something  happens  to  make  you  do  it,  and  I  said  that  what 
you  do  doesn’t  depend  on  you  but  on  the  other  fellow,  didn  1 1? 
Now,  you’ve  got  a  script.  Do  you  remember  it?” 

“Yes.”'- 

“What  is  it,  please?” 

“  ‘Mr.  Meisner.’  ” 

“Perfect.  Would  you  mind  turning  around?” 

Sensing  what  is  to  come,  the  class  begins  to  titter. 

“What  are  you  laughing  at?  I  haven’t  done  it  yet! 

Then  he  reaches  up  and  gives  John’s  back  a  big  pinch. 

“  'Mr.  Meisner!’  ”  John  shouts,  jumping  away  from  him.  There 
is  laughter  and  scattered  applause. 

“That,”  Meisner  says,  “is  the  illustration  of  what  I  just  told 
you.  ‘Don’t  do  anything  until  something  happens  to  make  you  do 
it.  And  what  you  do  doesn’t  depend  upon  you;  it  depends  on  the 
other  fellow!’  Did  I  force  that  screech  out  of  you?-’ 

“Yes,  in  a  manner  of  speaking.” 

“That’s  justification.  Okay,  John,  sit  down.  You  were  very 


35 


k  THE  PINCH  AND  THE  OUCH 

good.  Now  we  go  into  more  dangerous  territory.  Rose  Marie, 
come  here.” 

She  rises  and  joins  him  in  the  center  of  the  room.  . 

“How  are  you  on  texts?” 

“Great.” 

“  ‘Mr.  Meisner,’  ” 

“  ‘Mr.  Meisner,’  that’s  my  text.” 

“That’s  your  text.  Shall  we  rehearse  it?  What’s  your  text?” 

“  ‘Mr.  Meisner,’  ”  Rose  Marie  says. 

“And  what’s  the  principle?” 

“Not  to  do  or  say  anything  until  something  happens  to  make 
you  do  it.” 

“Don’t  do  anything,  never  mind  about  saying,  until  something 
happens  to  make  you  do  it!  What’s  the  text?” 

‘“Mr.  Meisner.’” 

“Good.  Turn  around  with  your  back  to  me,  please.  Con¬ 
centrate  on  the  text.  Don’t  do  anything  until  something  hap¬ 
pens.  ...  .”  Casually  he  reaches  around  her  shoulder  and  slips  his 
hand  into  her  blouse. 

“  'Mr.  Meisner V  ”  she  giggles,  drawing  away  from  his  touch. 

“You  see  how  true  that  acting  is,  how  full  emotionally,” 
Meisner  says.  “I  didn’t  know  you  were  ticklish.” 

The  classroom  resounds  with  laughter. 

“Now,  look.  I’m  talking  and  illustrating  something  which 
is  basic,  which  is  organic  to  the  technique.  What  did  you  see 
here?” 

“I  saw  truthful  responses,”  says  Joseph,  the  serious  young  man 
with  the  deep  voice. 

“To  what?” 

“To  your  grabbing  or  pinching  them.” 

“In  short,  my  pinch  justified  their  ouch,  isn’t  that  true?” 

“True.” 

“And  their  ouch  was  the  direct  result  of  my  pinch?” 

“Yes.” 

“What’s  the  principle  involved  in  this?” 

“Not  to  do  anything  until — ” 

“Something  happens.  Didn’t  something  happen  to  him?  Didn’t 


36 

something  happen  to  her?  Spontaneity  is  involved  in  this,  right? 
What  else?”  . 

:  “Truthfulness,”  Joseph  replies.  “It  is  the  basis  of  being  truth¬ 
ful.” 

“Yes,”  Meisner  says,  “it  is.” 

I! 

“You  know,  in  the  early  days  of  the  Group  Theatre,  the  actors 
used  to  do  what  they  called  ‘improvisations.’  ” 

Meisner  leans  back  in  a  comfortable  armchair  angled  before 
the  unlit  fireplace  in  his  paneled  office.  The  class  was  a  long  one, 
and  outside  a  red  sun  is  about  to  set.  Scott  Roberts,  a  large. leather 
briefcase  across  his  knees,  sits  on  the  daybed  against  the  wall. 

“These  were  general  verbalizations  of  what  we  thought  was  an 
approximation  of  our  situation  in  the  play.  We  were  retelling 
what  we  remembered  of  the  story  of  the  play  using  our  own 
words.  I  came  to  the  realization  that  this  was  all  intellectual 
nonsense.  A  composer  doesn’t  write  down  what  he  thinks  would 
be  effective;  he  works  from  his  heart. 

“I  decided  I  wanted  an  exercise  for  actors  where  there  is  no 
intellectuality.  I  wanted  to  eliminate  all  that  ‘head’  work,  to  take 
away  all  the  mental  manipulation  and  get  to  where  the  impulses 
come  from.  And  1  began  with  the  premise  that  if  I  repeat  what 
I  hear  you  saying,  my  head  is  not  working.  I’m  listening,  and 
there  is  an  absolute  elimination  of  the  brain.  If  you  say,  Your 
glasses  are  dirty,’  and  I  say,  ‘My  glasses  are  dirty,’  and  you  say, 
‘Yes,  your  glasses  are  dirty,’  there  is  no  intellectuality  in  that. 

Meisner  glances  for  a  moment  at  the  framed  black-and-white 
photograph  of  Eleonora  Duse  which  stands  on  his  small  mahog¬ 
any  desk. 

“Then  I  came  to  the  next  stage.  Let’s  say  I  say  to  you,  ‘Lend 
me  ten  dollars.’  And  you  say,  ‘Lend  you  ten  dollars?’  ‘Yes,  lend 
me  ten  dollars.’  And  that  goes  on  for  five  or  six  times  until — and 
this  is  vital — your  refusal  sets  up  an  impulse  in  me  which  comes 
directly  out  of  the  repetition  and  it  makes  me  say  to  you,  ‘You’re 
a  stinker!’  That’s  repetition  which  leads  to  impulses.  It  is  not 


37 


THE  PINCH  AND  THE  OUCH 

intellectual.  It  is  emotional  and  impulsive,  and  gradually  when 
the  actors  I  train  improvise,  what  they  say — like  what  the  com¬ 
poser  writes — comes  not  from  the  head  but  truthfully  from  the 
impulses.” 

“I  know,”  Scott  says.  “But  the  problem  is  that  on  a  superficial 
level  all  this  repetitive  back-and-forth  can  seem  boring.  Vincent, 
for  example,  the  guy  who’s  Anna’s  partner,  told  me  before  class 
that  the  repetition  exercise  drives  him  nuts.” 

“Ah,  please,”  Meisner  says  with  a  dismissive  wave  of  his  hand, 
“Vincent  comes  from  California,  for  God’s  sake,  where  he  claims 
to  have  studied  with  one  of  the  legion  of  teachers  who  claim  to 
have  studied  with  me!  Look,  I’ll  tell  you  why  the  repetition 
exercise,  in  essence,  is  not  boring:  it  plays  on  the  source  of  all 
organic  creativity,  which  is  the  inner  impulses.  I  wish  I  could 
make  that  clear!” 

He  pauses  for  a  moment.  “Of  course,  if  I  were  a  pianist  and  sat 
for  an  hour  just  making  each  finger  move  in  a  certain  way,  the 
onlooker  could  very  well  say,  ‘That’s  boring!’  And  it  would  be 
— to  the  onlooker.  But  the  practitioner  is  somebody  who  is  learn¬ 
ing  to  funnel  his  instincts,  not  give  performances.  The  mistake 
we  made  in  the  Group  was  that  our  early  improvisations  were 
performances  of  how  we  remembered  the  original  play. 

“You  know,  a  friend  of  mine  who  owns  the  house  in  which 
Joan  Sutherland  has  an  apartment  says,  ‘Sometimes  she  drives  me 
crazy  with  the  repetition  of  the  scales,  but  then  I  hear  the  purity 
of  the  tones  and  all  is  forgiven.'  I’m  a  very  nonintellectual  teacher 
of  acting.  My  approach  is  based  on  bringing  the  actor  back  to  his 
emotional  impulses  and  to  acting  that  is  firmly  rooted  in  the 
instinctive.  It  is  based  on  the  fact  that  all  good  acting  comes  from 
the  heart,  as  it  were,  and  that  there’s  no  mentality  in  it.” 


The  Knock  on  the  Door 


Class  Motto:  “Repeat” 

— from  a  brass  plaque  on  the.  side  of  a  steel-gray  Puroi': 
water  cooler,  “Gift  of  the  Class  of  1971,”  which. stands^ 
outside  the  door  of  Meisner's  third-floor  classroom 


m 


October  9 


“Let’s  see  now.  I  want  to  start  something  new  today.  Vince,  go 
across  the  hall  to  the  teachers’  room,  where  you  will  find  a  tele¬ 
phone  book.  Bring  it  in,  presto,  presto .  ” 

Vince  returns  in  a  moment  with  a  thick  Manhattan  telephone 
directory.  He  sits  at  the  long  table  in  the  center  of  the  room,  the 


book  open  before  him. 

“Last  week,  Vince,  you  met  a  beautiful  girl  at  a  party  and  she 
said,  ‘I’m  having  a  party  next  Saturday  night,  and  if  you  want  to 
come  to  it,  my  family  is  in  Europe,  so  you  can  stay  all  night.  Do 
you  like  that?” 

“Yes.” 

“Good.  Now,  you  wrote  her  name  and  address  down  on  a  slip 


a^mbawpuj-lost  it.  Fortunately,  you  remember  her  name. 

’"^Smith^ind  she  lives  in  Manhattan  on  the  East  Side  in 
^e3§S.ef^nties.  Now,  do  you  have  a  good  reason  to  look  up 

||sjH:’iwant. to  spend  the  night.” 
jlerm’e  call  your  attention  to  something.  I  deliberately  made 
|Uus§difficult.  \  Smith  in  Manhattan?  There  are  fourteen  pages  of 
pmiths  in  Manhattan!  Another  difficulty  is  the  reason  why  you 
shave  to  find  her,  or  else  .  .  .” 
fill’ll  spend  Saturday  night  alone.” 

“That’s  difficult.  Anna,  give  him  a  little  time  to  get  into  it  and 
then  play  the  Word  Repetition  Game  just  as  you’ve  been  doing 
it.”  '  '  • 


Vincent  begins  to  search  the  Smith  section  of  the  Manhattan 
telephone  directory.  He  quickly  becomes  absorbed  in  the  task. 
Then  Anna  says  quietly,  “Looking  for  something?”  “I’m  looking 
for  something,”  he  responds,  and  the  repetition  exercise  begins. 
It  is  essentially  unchanged,  except  that  Vince’s  attention  is  fixed 
on  solving  the  problem  of  locating  K.  Z.  Smith,  a  task  made  more 
difficult  ly  Anna’s  insistent  pursuit  of  playing  the  word  game. 
The  result  is  that  the  dialogue,  is  more  focused,  and  there  are 
more  impulsive  shifts  in  its  direction,  more  surprises. 

“That’s  pretty  good,”  Meisner'says  after  a  few  minutes.  “I 
invented  something  for  you  to  do  with  that  telephone  book.  That 
story  about  the  girl  with  the  obliging  parents  is  sheer  invention, 
but  finding  her  has  a  virtue.  It  is  difficult  to  do.  It  takes  all  your 
concentration,  and  out  of  that  some  emotion  will  come.”  He 
pauses  for  a  moment.  “We’re  moving  forward.  Putting  the  repeti¬ 
tion  exercise  together  with  an  independent  activity  is  a  new  step. 
I  want  all  of  you  to  choose  something  to  do  which  is  above 
all  difficult,  if  not  almost  impossible.  This  is  very  important.  You 
have  to  have  a  reason  why  you  want  to  do  it.  You  must  have  a 
reason  why  you  want  to  do  it,  because  that’s  the  source  of  your 
concentration  and  eventually  of  your  emotion,  which  comes  by 
itself.” 

Meisner  pauses  to  adjust  the  microphone  attached  to  his  eye¬ 
glasses.  “Let’s  talk  about  this.  To  be  inventive,  to  have  ideas,  is 
an  organic  part  of  being  talented.  You’re  all  very  imaginative, 


aren’t  you?  The  answer  is  ‘Positively.’  Go  to  Woolworth’sTB |rp 
a  plate  for  ten  cents  and  break  it.  Steal  your  brother’s  glue  add; 
put  that  plate  together  as  though  it  had  never  been  broken.  Now, 
consider:  why  should  you  do  that?”  •' I 

“Perhaps  you  will  get  into  a  lot  of  rroubJe  if  it’s  broken,”  says 
Rose  Marie. 


:  “That  has  validity.  Suppose  it’s  the"  best  plate  in  a  fabulous 
collection  that  your  mother  owns.” 

“And  it  has  great  sentimental  value  for  her,”,  says  Rose  Marie. 

“And  her  anger  means  a  big  headache  for  you.  Would  that 
propel  you?  Remember  this;  the  independent  activity  must  be 
difficult;  truly  difficult,  and  the  reason  why  you  do  it  has  to  have 
a  consuming  reality  for  you.” 


October  13 

“Let’s  go  very  slowly,”  Meisner  says  to  Joseph  and  Beth,  the 
young  woman  with  the  luxurious  hair.  “This  is  so  vital;  it’s  at  the 
core  of  the  way  you  handle  yourself.  Joseph,  do  what  you  have 
chosen  to  do.  Beth,  give  him  plenty  of  time  to  get  immersed  in 
what  he’s  doing.  Let’s  not  rush.  Take  your  time.  Make  a  mistake. 
I  don’t  care— just  make  the  first  step.” 

“May  I  ask  you  a  question?”  asks  Beth.'  “During  this  exercise 
when  I  come  in  and  Joseph  has  a  task,  I  feel  that  I  don’t  want  to 
keep  interrupting  because  he’s  concentrating.  If  it  were  me,  I’d 
just  leave.” 

“No,  it’s  not  you  in  real  life,”  Meisner  says.  “It’s  you  practicing 
an  exercise.” 

“That’s  what  I  mean.  My  conflict  .  .  .  There’s  a  tension— ” 

“Then  wait!” 

“Wait  for  something  to  happen?” 

“Yes.  Where  could  it  come  from?” 

“Something  that  he  does  .  .  .  ?” 

“Something  that  he  does.  Do  you  follow?  Otherwise  what 
you’re  saying  is  that  acting  is  talking,  and  what  I’m  saying  is 
don’t  do  anything  until  something  happens  to  make  you  do  it. 


41 


fcrciCON  THE  DOOR 

m 


jEDther\vise  you  will  create  an  untruthful  thing.  Let  me  try  to 
■p'ake  this  clearer.” 

fp^Meisner  pauses  to  light  a  cigarette.  “Now,  wait.  I  said  we’re 
!f  going  to  go  slowly.”  He  regards  Joseph.  “What  are  you  going  to 
■  ;  do?”  • 

“You  want  an  explanation  of  my  independent  activity?  My 
nephew  is  sick  and  is  going  into  the  hospital.  I’m  making  a 
cartoon  for  him  to  try  to  explain  to  him  that  he  shouldn’t  be 
afraid.”  ■■  •! .. 

“Fine.  Do  that  as  if  your  life  depended  on  it.  When  I  knock, 
you  and  I  will  begin  the  word  repetition.” 

Joseph  carefully  sharpens  a  drawing  pencil  on  a  small  sheet  of 
sandpaper  and  begins  to  work  on  his  cartoon.  When  Meisner  sees 
that  Joseph  is  engrossed,  he  knocks  on.  his  desk  top. 

“You  want  my  attention?”  Joseph  asks,  looking  up  from  his 
work. 

“But  you  have  to  continue  to  do  that!”  Meisner  exclaims,  refer¬ 
ring  to  the  independent  activity. 

.  “I  know,”  says  Joseph. 

“So  do  it!” 

Joseph  hunches  over  his  work.  Meisner  regards  him  intently. 
“What  are  you  doing?” 

“What  am  I  doing?”  Joseph  repeats,  looking  over  at  him. 

“Why  did  you  look  over  at  me?” 

“Why,  to  see  iwhat  you  were  doing.” 

He  begins  to  draw  again.  A  minute  passes.  Meisner,  his  curios¬ 
ity  aroused,  stands  up  and  walks  slowly  to  the  table  where  Joseph 
works.  “You’re  busy?”  he  asks  casually. 

:  '  “I’m  busy.” 

“You’re  busy.” 

“I’m  busy.” 

There  is  another  pause.  Meisner  edges  another  step  closer  to 
Joseph.  “You’re  very  busy,”  he  says  admiringly. 

“I’m  very  busy,”  Joseph  admits. 

“Busy.” 

“Yeah,  busy.” 

“Yeah.”  • 


42 


“Yeah.” 

Again  there  is  a  moment  of  silence;  then  Meisner  takes  a  step 
that  brings  him  looming  over  the  seated  Joseph.  “I’m  busy  too,” 
he  announces. 

“Are  you?”  says  Joseph,  hunching  over  his  drawing  board. 

“Yeah,  I’m  very  busy,”  Meisner  replies,  leaning  over  Joseph’s 
shoulder. 

“You’re  very  busy,”  Joseph  says,  and  then  in  exasperation  he 
stands  up  and  says,  “You  know,  you’re  preventing  me  from  doing 
this!” 

“That’s  what  I’m  busy  at!”  Meisner  exclaims  proudly,  and  the 
class  laughs.  “Now,  what  point  am  I  making?” 

“To  really  do  what  you’re  doing,”  Joseph  says.  “You’re  busy 
bothering  me  and  I  have  to  do  this  activity  and  respond  to  you 
too.” 

“Am  I  adjusting  to  you?” 

“I  think  you  are.  You’re  working  off  me,  if  that  s  what  you 
mean.” 

“Falsely  or  truthfully?” 

“I’d  say  truthfully.” 

“What  did  I  say  to  Sarah  last  week?  What  did  I  say  to  you, 
Sarah?”. 

“A  moment  of  silence  isn’t  nothing,”  she  replies.  It  s  a  mo¬ 
ment  as  well.” 

“It  means  something,  right?  Acting  is  not  talking.  It  is  living 
off  the  other  fellow.  What’s  that  mean?” 

“Acting  isn’t  chatter,”  Beth  says;  “it’s  responding  truthfully  to 
the  other  person.”  • 

“That’s  right.  Joseph,  sum  this  up  for  me.” 

“The  meaning  is  in  the  behavior.  You  don’t  do  anything  until 
that  behavior  makes  you  do  something.” 

“And  then  you  do  it  in  what  way?” 

“You  do  it  truthfully  and  fully.  You  really  do  it.” 

“You  try!” 

“You  do  what  it  makes  you  do.” 

“You  do  what  it  makes  you  do.  Now,  Joseph,  you  had  a  certain 
merit  in  what  you  were  doing,  in  the  sense  that  your  independent 
activity  was  specific  and  it  had  some  kind  of  meaning  to  you.  The 


gg'M 

;  ■  THE  KNOCK  ON  THE  DOOR 


43 


error  here,  which  you  will  gradually  overcome,  is  to  think  that 
you  have  to  keep  on  talking.  What’s  the  opposite  of  that?” 
“The  opposite  of  talking?”  Joseph  asks.  “Silence.” 

“Silence.  Until  something  happens  to  make  you  do  something /” 


October  17 

Bruce,  a  tall  man  in  his  late  thirties  with  thinning  gray  hair,  has 
been  casually  moving  bits  and  pieces  of  a  wooden  puzzle  in  and 
out  of  a  cardboard  box.  N^leisner  motions  for  Lila,  a  student  new 
to  the  class,  to  sit  down  and  then  interrupts  the  exercise. 

“Whenever  you  do  what  you  have  to  do,  which  is  that  puzzle, 
and  let  whatever  comes  from  your  partner  come  as  an  accident 
which  you  repeat,  this  exercise  works  for  you.  But  while  she  was 
up  there  you  were  more  conscious  of  her  than  you  were  absorbed 
in  solving  the  puzzle.” 

“The  reason  was  that  this  independent  activity  didn’t  work  for 
me.” 

“Why  were  you  doing  it?” 

“There  was  a  million  dollars  at  stake.  If  I  put  this  puzzle 
together  I  would  get  a  million  dollars.” 

“Don’t  you  think  that’s  a  little  exaggerated?” 

“Maybe.  I  wanted  to  see  if  money  would  make  it  any  more  real 
for  me.” 

“What  about  a  thousand  dollars?”  Meisner  asks.  “That  doesn  t 
mean  anything?” 

“I  thought  a  million  was  better.” 

“Then  ten  million  is  ten  times  better  still,  but  that’s  not  the 
point  I  want  to  make.  I’m  having  a  tough  time  with  you,  Bruce, 
and  one  of  the  reasons  is  because  you  are  audience-conscious. 
What  makes  you  audience-conscious?  I  can  understand  Milton 
Berle  being  audience-conscious,  but  what  makes  you  audience 
conscious?  Stanislavsky,  no  slouch,  had  a  phrase  which  he  called 
‘public  solitude.’  He  said  that  when  you’re  alone  in  your  room 
and  nobody’s  watching  you — you’re  just  standing  in  front  of  the 
mirror  combing  your  hair — the  relaxation,  the  completeness 
with  which  you  do  it  is  poetic.  He  calls  this  relaxed  behavior  on 


* 


the  stage  ‘public  solitude.’  On  the  stage  ‘public  solitude’  is  what 
we  want.  You  have  only  one  element  to  give  up  to  get  to  the  area 
where  your  real  acting  personality  is,  and  that  is  yourself.” 

“That  has  to  do  with  the  motive  for  my  independent  activity, 
doesn’t  it?” 

“The  silly  million  dollars?” 

“It  didn’t  work.” 

“It  never  will.  It’s  not  imaginative  to  say  a  million  dollars.  It’s 
exaggerated  and  false.  What  would  honestly  work  for  you?” 

“A  hundred  dollars,”  Bruce  says  simply. 

“So  why  be  theatrical?  And  theatrical  in  a  false  way?  You  see, 
only  you  know  what’s  truthful  for  you.  A  couple  of  years  ago  I 
was  hit  by  a  goddamned  truck,  and  now  there’s  a  lawsuit  going 
on.  People  say  to  me,  ‘You’re  going  to  get  three  million  dollars.’ 
Do  you  know  what  my  reaction  is?  I  laugh.  It’s  ridiculous.  But 
when  somebody  says,  ‘You  might  get  a  hundred  thousand  dol¬ 
lars,’  I  say,  ‘Really?’  That  I  can  believe;  otherwise  it’s  ridiculous.” 

Meisner  takes  a  puff  on  his  cigarette.  “Since  I  don’t  walk  well 
I  take  taxis  frequently.  Do  you  know  who  was  driving  my  taxi 
today?  Mrs.  Ronald  Reagan /” 

Someone  chuckles  quietly. 

“Did  you  get  it?  Joseph,  what  are  you  laughing  at?” 

“That’s  ridiculous,”  Joseph  says. 

“Of  course.  But  if  I’d  said,  ‘Her  son,  the  ex-ballet  dancer — ’  ” 

The  class  laughs. 

Truth  and  public  solitude.  Believe  me,  Bruce,  you  should 
have  ‘Public  Solitude’  engraved  on  your  stationery,  because 
that’s  what  you  need.  Not  public  exhibitionism,  but  public  soli¬ 
tude.  When  you  are  at  home,  when  you  have  a  job  to  do,  you  do 
it.  You  comb  your  hair,  and  you  don’t  watch  to  make  sure  your 
pinky’s  out;  You  exhaust  me.  Have  a  seat.” 


October  20 

Wendy  holds  up  her  hand.  “I  feel  a  little  unclear  about  the 
independent  activity.  I  mean,  I  find  it  very  difficult  to  do  this. 


45 


THE  KNOCK  ON  THE  DOOR 


It  could  be  as  simple  as  doing  the  alphabet  backwards,  right?” 

“But  there  would  be  no  point  to  it.” 

“If  there’s  a  reason,  there  will  be  a  point  to  it.” 

“What’s  the  reason?”  Meisner  asks  and  waits  for  her  response. 

“I  can’t  think  of  anything  except — ” 

“That’s  right,  you  can’t.  You'd  have  to  go  to  Bellevue  to  get  a 
reason.  Everything  in  acting  is  a  kind  of  heightened,  intensified 
reality — but  it’s  based  on  justified  reality.  To  recite  the  alphabet 
backwards  is  not  reality.  You’d  have  to  invent  some  weird  reason 
to  justify  it,  and  I  don’t  know  what  that  could  be.” 

Wendy  nods  in  agreement. 

“If  you’re  a  good  caricaturist  like,  to  take  a  minor  one,  that 
fellow  who  does  all  those  theatrical  caricatures  for  the  Sunday 
Times — ” 

“A1  Hirschfeld,”  Wendy  says. 

.  “A1  Hirschfeld,  yeah.  You  always  recognize  the  real  source  of 
his  caricatures.  What  I’m  saying  is  that  everything  is  based  on 
life,  on  reality.  My  mind  goes  back  to  Ed  Wynn,  who  was  Keenan 
Wynn’s  father  and  a  truly  great  clown.  He  had  an  act  which 
consisted,  among  other  things,  of  inventions.  He  was  trying  to 
sell  the  audience  a  very  complicated  machine  that  was  designed 
to  let  you  eat  watermelon  without  getting  your  ears  wet.  Now 
that’s  ridiculous,  right?  But  the  feeling  of  desperation,  the  feeling 
of  fear  that  he  wouldn’t  succeed  made  it  first-class  clowning.” 

Meisner  pauses.  The  moment  is  clearly  meaningful  to  him.  “I 
brought  this  up  because  of  what  you  said  about  how  difficult  it 
would  be  reciting  the  alphabet  backwards.  It  would  be  even  more 
difficult  to  walk  from  here  to  L.A.  on  your  hands,  but  it  would 
.  also  be  crazy,  which  means  abnormal.  The  greatest  piece  of  act- 
%  ing  or  music  or  sculpture  or  what-have-you  always  has  its  roots 
in  the  truth  of  human  emotion.  Beethoven  was  a  bastard  in  real 
f  life,  you  know.  He  was  a  real  bastard.  But  his  music  is  pure  and 
E  based  in  his  real  feeling.  That  is  why  he  was  great.  Not  because 
k  he  fired  his  servant,  which  he  did,  because  a  sock  was  missing  out 
§  of  the  laundry.  What  I’m  saying  is  that  the  truth  of  ourselves  is 
|i  the  root  of  our  acting.” 


46 


“I’m  going  to  show  you  a  brand-new  thing.  Years  ago,  before  you 
were  born,  there  was  a  show  called  Florodora,  and  there  was  a 
song  in  it  entitled  ‘Every  Little  Movement  Has  a  Meaning  All  Its 
Own. ’  Now,  I  changed, that  a  bit  to  say,  ‘Every  Little  Moment  Has 
a  Meaning  All  Its  Own.’  You  sort  of  know  that  already,  don’t 
you?  All  right,  now.  A  knock  ...  a  knock  has  a  meaning.  Follow 
this  carefully.  A  knock  has  a  meaning.  John,  go  outside  and  knock 
— truthfully — and  then  wait  ten  seconds  and  knock  a  second  time 
with  a  second  meaning.  Then  knock  a  third  time.” 

“Three  different  meanings?” 

“Right.  Ralph,  you  tell  me  what  each  knock  means  to  you.” 

There  is  a  quiet  rap  on  the  door. 

“Is  anybody  there?”  Ralph  says. 

“No,  it  was  timid.  Call  it  timid.” 

Then  there  is  an  emphatic,  rapid  knock.  • 

“Nervous,”  Ralph  says.  “He  sounds  nervous.” 

“All  right.” 

Finally  there  is  a  huge,  booming  knock. 

“Angry,  really  loud — ” 

“All  right,  call  him  in.” 

John  reappears. 

“John — everybody — knock  so  that  it  has  some  resemblance  to 
life.  Don’t  knock  theatrically.  Your  last  knock  was  on  the  verge 
of  being  theatrical.  Do  you  understand?” 

John  nods  his  head. 

“Now  here’s  the  catch.  The  first  moment  of  the  exercise  is  the 
knock.  The  exercise  begins  with  the  knock.  The  second  moment 
is  the  opening  of  the  door,  and  the  third  moment  is  your  interpre¬ 
tation  of  the  knock.  The  third  moment  is  the  meaning  the  knock 
has  for  you,  verbalized  by  you  as  you  open  the  door.  Right?  Then 
you  go  back  to  what  you’re  doing.  Do  whatever  the  third  moment 
permits  you  to  do  and  then  go  back  to  your  independent  activity 
and  let  the  exercise  continue.” 

Ralph  seems  puzzled. 

“Let’s  go  over  the  knocking,”  Meisner  says.  “After  the  first 
two,  tell  me  what  they  mean  to  you.  After  the  third  one,  open  the 


47 


? is  THE  KNOCK  ON  THE  DOOR 

door.  And  use — verbally — what  the  third  knock  meant  to  you. 
Then  go  back  to  your  independent  activity  and  the  exercise.  Any 
:  questions?”  ' 

“I  understand  the  order  of  it,”  Ralph  says,  “but  if  you  were 
doing  the  activity  and  didn’t  want  to  be  interrupted—” 

“Then  don’t  interrupt — ” 

“No,  you’re  doing  the  activity  and  you  have  to  open  the  door, 
right?” 

;  “No!”  Meisner  exclaims. 

“Okay,  that  makes  it  clear.” 

“No!  You  understand?” 

“Yeah—” 

“No!  You  understand?” 

“I  understand.  Yes.” 

“Yes?  Tell  me  why.” 

“ ‘You  don’t  do  something  until — ’ 

“Okay.  You  understand.” 


“Lila,  the  thing  that  we  have  to  correct  here  is  to  take  away  the 
logic,  because  the  repetition  will  induce  real  emotion  and  the 
logic  stays  mental.  Do  you  understand  that?” 

“Yes,”  Lila  says.  A  hennaed  blond  in  her  late  forties,  she  is  the 
oldest  student  in  the  class. 

“Now,  look.  You’ve  had  plenty  of  experience,  and  when  you 
picked  up  a  script  in  the  past,  I  imagine,  your  tendency  was  to 
read  it  according  to  what  you  thought  was  the  right  feeling  or 
mood — call  it  what  you  will.  Now  I’m  pulling  you  away  from 
that  habit  and  I’m  saying  a  simple  thing.  Be  foolish  but  be  repeti¬ 
tive.  Keep  up  the  repetition  until  something  happens  to  you, 
something  that  will  come  right  out  of  you.  Right?” 

“Right.” 

“But  to  ask  your  partner  questions  continuously,  as  you  did, 
is  using  your  head,  and  what  I’m  trying  to  do  is  get  you  out  of 
your  head.  Do  you  follow?” 

“Get  me  out  of  my  head,”  Lila  says. 

“Into  what?” 

“My  emotional  life.” 


“Point  to  it.”  '1 

Lila  points  at  her  heart.  Fv 

“  I  hat’s  right.  That’s  my  first  step  in  getting  you  away  from 
indicating.  Repeat  to  me  what  I  just  told  you.” 

“You’re  trying  to  get  me  away  from  using  my  logic  to  using 
my  .  . 

“Your  impulses — ”  < 

“My  impulses,  my  instincts.  Gee,  if  I  could  only  do  that!” 

“If  you  try  to  do  it  for  two  minutes  today,  you’ll  do  it  for  four 
minutes  next  time.  Do  you  follow?”  '  1 

“Right.  I’ll  try.” 

“Of  course  you  will.  Repeat.  Repeat.” 


“What  was  your  difficulty,  John,  do  yon  know?” 

“I  felt  like,  just  get  through  it.  She  was  very  emotional  and  I 
didn’t  want  to  make  it  worse  so  I  started  saying  to  myself,  ‘Get 
away.’  ” 

“Isn’t  that  in  your  head?” 

“Yes,  exactly.”  / 

“Isn’t  that  where  you’ve  been  doing  most  of  your  acting-out 
of  a  mental  desire  to  keep  the  exercise  going  in  a  helpful  way?” 

“Yes.” 

“Is  that  good  or  bad  for  your  acting?” 

“Bad,  very  bad.” 

“That’s  stock-company  stuff,  what  you’re  doing.  You’re  writ¬ 
ing  a  logical  text.  The  opposite  of  that  is  to  work  off  her.  Why 
did  you  do  it?”  - 

“In  my  past  it’s  usually  not  trusting  directors.  It’s  just  standing 
outside  of  myself  whenever  I  got  cast  in  something  and  feeling 
that  this  guy  doesn’t  know  what  he’s  talking  about,  so  I  keep  my 
sense  of  what’s  going  on  outside  the  work.” 

“Are  you  saying  that  I  don’t  know  what  I’m  talking  about?” 

“God,  no!  I’m  paying  too  much  for  this  to  walk  away  with  that 
attitude.” 

“Then  why  don’t  you  do  what  I  tell  you?” 

“Well,  I’d  like  to.  I  just  don’t  know  if  it’s  too  ingrained  a  habit.” 

“Well,  next  time  you’ll  have  the  independent  activity.  Make  it 


something  which  is  quite  difficult  and  quite  meaningful,  and 
don’t  open  your  mouth  unless  you  repeat.  And  if  you  are  doing 
an  experiment  on  cancer  and  your  partner  says,  ‘I  feel  like  having 
some  spaghetti,’  you’ve  got  to  repeat  it!  You’re  quite  right,  I 
suppose,  when  you  say  that  some  directors  don’t  know  what  the 
hell  they’re  talking  about,  but  you’ve  got  to  trust  your  instincts 
and  not  your  head.  The  playwright  gives  you  what  to  say.  Your 
job  as  an  actor  is  to  fill  the  role  with  life.  That’s  the  point  of  this 
exercise.  I’ve  been  wary  of  your  intelligence  right  from  the  be¬ 
ginning.  I  spotted  that  you  worked  up  here,”  Meisner  says,  point¬ 
ing  to  his  head.  “I  can  fix  it,  but  you’ve  got  to  help  me.  What  do 
I  mean  when  I  say  you’re  doing  the  cancer  experiment  and  she 
comes  in  and  says,  ‘I  love  spaghetti’?” 

“Whatever  she  does,  work  off  it.” 

“Repeat!  Repeat!” 

“Repeat!” 


October  27 

“Now,  what  about  this  independent  activity?”  Meisner  asks. 
“What  are  some  of  its  characteristics?” 

“It  has  to  be  urgent,  truthful  and  difficult  to  do,”  says  Vincent. 

“For  the  moment  I  would  concentrate  on  the  difficulty,” 
Meisner  says.  “What  else?” 

John  raises  his  hand.  “You  brought  up  the  example  from  Stan¬ 
islavsky,  what  he  said  about  ‘public  solitude,’  and  you  said  that 
if  you  really  involved  yourself  in  the  activity — just  as  if  you  re  at 
home  combing  your  hair  in  the  mirror — it  would  be  poetic  if  you 
were  totally  involved  in  it.” 

“  ‘Public  solitude.’  What  else?” 

Sarah  leans  forward  in  her  seat.  “That  the  activity  and  the 
reason  you  choose  to  do  it  can’t  be  too  exaggerated  or  too  far 
fetched.  It  has  to  be  something  realistic,  not  like  Mrs.  Ronald 
Reagan  driving  a  taxi.” 

“Because  she’s  a  terrible  driver!”  Meisner  exclaims,  and  the 
class  laughs.  “What  else?  What  did  I  say  was  the  essence  of  the 
independent  activity?  The  most  important  element  in  it?” 


“The  reason  why ,  ’’John  says,  “the  specific  reason  you’re  dding! 

it  ”  ■  :  ■  ®li 

■  .  .  . .  .  -  ■**;$ 

That  s  important ,  but  it’s  not  the  most  important  element 

“The  difficulty?”  John  asks. 

“Yes,  the  difficulty.” 

“It  strengthens  your  concentration,”  Sarah  adds. 

“Indeed  it  does,”  Meisner  says.  “That’s  common  sense.”  He 
pauses  for  a  moment  before  asking,  “How  many  of  you  have 
some  kind  of  reasonably  familiar  knowledge  of  another  creative 
art?”  Bruce  raises  his  hand.  “You  do?  Music?” 

“Singing,”  Bruce  says,  “but  I’m  not  an  accomplished  musi¬ 
cian.” 

“Suppose  you  wanted  to  be.  What’s  the  first  thing  you  have  to 
know  essentially,  besides  knowing  you  have  a  good  voice?  What 
do  you  have  to  know  if  you  want  to  play  the  Emperor  Concerto 
with  the  Philharmonic?”  Bruce  has  no  answer.  “Anybody?” 
Meisner  asks. 

“You  have  to  know  the  music,”  Vince  suggests. 

“Of  course.” 

“You  have  to  open  the  piano,”  Wendy  says. 

“No!  To  become  an  accomplished  musician  you  have  to  realize 
that  it  takes  twenty  years  to  be  a  master  at  it!  A  master /”  Meisner’s 
use  of  the  word  is  thrilling.  He  pauses  before  adding,  “And  the 
same  is  true  of  acting.”  The  students  regard  him  soberly.  “Well, 
does  anybody  want  to  say  anything?”  After  a  moment  he  adds, 

“I  do.  Why  do  you  think  this  is  vital?  Why  should  you  be  doing 
that  independent  activity?  Why  did  I  choose  to  have  you  do  it? 
Anna?” 

“Because  you  learn  to  use  your  instincts  based  on  what  some¬ 
body  else  does  to  you,”  she  says. 

“As  opposed  to  what  you  have  to  achieve  by  yourself.  What 
else?” 

“It  helps  us  in  our  concentration  because  it  takes  us  out  of  the 
classroom,”  Anna  continues.  “We’re  doing  something  that  we 
have  to  do  which  is  unrelated  to  anybody  else,  and  it  doesn’t 
matter  where  we  are.  We  could  be  at  home  or  on  the  street  or 
even  on  stage — it’s  of  its  own  world.  Also,  it’s  good  to  have  some¬ 
thing  else  going  on  in  the  exercise,  bouncing  off  somebody  else.” 


jKJJyThat’s  very  hard,”  Anna  says. 
hA  “What?”  Meisner  asks  in  surprise, 
r  “I  think  that’s  very  hard,”  Anna  says  in  a  firm  but  quiet  voice. 

“Time,”  Meisner  says.  “Give  yourself  time.  In  only  nineteen 
years  and  eleven  months  you’ll  be  amazed  at  how  simple  it  all 
was.”  The  class  laughs. 


“It  seems  to  be  quiet  here  today.  Nobody  seems  to  want  to  be 
dramatic,  but  that’s  all  right,  provided  we  follow  the  basic  rules.” 

Meisner  has  just  interrupted  a  repetition  exercise  between 
Ralph,  whom  Wendy  described  on  the  first  day  of  class  as  stocky, 
burly  and  stooped — he  was  a  wrestler  in  high  school — and  Dave, 
a  dark,  slightly  imperious  young  man  who  was  a  first-rate  colle¬ 
giate  swimmer  and  who  currently  teaches  the  sport  in  a  New 
Jersey  health  club. 

“Now,  for  the  most  part,  this  was  spotty.  The  weakness,  in  it 
was  the  way  you  kept  letting  it  drop  all  the  time.  In  terms  of 
continuity,  the  contact  between  you  broke  too  often.  You  let  it 
stop.  When  the  thing  logically  seemed  to  end;  you  let  it.  ‘Can  I 
help  you?’  ‘No,  you  can’t  help  me.’  Period.  ‘Can  I  pick  that  up?’ 
‘No,  you  can’t  pick  that  up.’  Finished.  I  didn’t  mind  because 
basically,  like  the  others  today,  it  was  relaxed,  easy  and  unforced. 
These  are  all  significant  values,  but  the  continuity  was  missing.” 

“I  understand  that,”  Dave  says  defensively,  “but  I’m  uncom¬ 
fortable  with  its  application  to  what  I  was  doing.  I  didn’t  want 
to  force  it  or  push  it — just  to  let  it  happen,” 

.<  “You  were  absolutely  right.” 

:  “In  terms  of  the  repetition — ” 

“It  was  up  to  Ralph,”  Meisner  adds. ; 

“That’s  right,”  Dave  agrees  and  begins  to  gather  up  the  deck 
of  playing  cards  scattered  over  the  table.  His  independent  activ¬ 
ity  was  to  make  a  house  of  cards. 

“I’m  sorry,”  Ralph  says,  “It  seems  that  I  was  waiting  for  some¬ 
thing  to  happen,  and  when  it  didn’t  happen  I—”  >  A 

Meisner  interrupts.  “My  dear  fellow,  I  have  illustrated  that 
there  is  no  such  thing  as  nothing,  right?  And  I  have  also  illus- 


52 

trated  that  what  you  do  doesn’t  depend  on  you,  it  depends  on  the 
other  fellow.  He  was  concentrating  very  intently.  You  could 
have  noted  that,  but  you  let  it  slide  without  comment.  Let  me  tell 
you  something.  I  am,  in  a  way,  delighted  with  what  I  have  seen 
so  far  today  because  it  represents  an  understanding  of  the  prob¬ 
lem  on  its  smoothest,  least  excited  level.  I  like  it!  It’s  like  a  vaca¬ 
tion!  And  the  reason  you  behaved  as  you  did  was  valuable.  It 
wasn’t  producing  any  cliches;  it  was  true.” 

He  regards  Ralph  intently  for  a  moment  and  then  asks,  “Are 
you  afraid  of  him?”  • 

“Yeah,”  Ralph  says  quietly,  “sometimes.” 

“You  should  use  that.  It  will  do  something  for  him  and  for  you. 
Why  are  you  afraid  of  him?” 

“He’s  a  big  guy,  he’s  very  willful,  very  tempestuous,  and  I  feel 
I  have  to  get  on  his  good  side.” 

“That’s  not  theatrical,”  Meisner  replies.  “It’s  bad  for  you,  and 
it’s  unfair  to  him.  You’re  putting  him  in  the  position  of  having 
a  hundred  dollars  in  his  pocket, , and  all  he  is  allowed  to  buy  is 
jelly  beans.  Do  you  understand  that?”  Ralph  nods.  “But  in  a  real 
way,  I  liked  what  you  did.  There  was  progress  in  it.  There  was 
knowledge  in  it.  The  thing  that’s  going  to  bring  it  to  a  different 
level  has  yet  to  come.  The  reason  behind  the  knock,  the  reason 
why  you  come  in  and  engage  him  in  human  conversation — you 
follow? — -has  yet  to  come.” 

The  exercise  between  Bruce  and  Lila  proves  tedious  and  painful 
to  watch.  Bruce  has  chosen  to  play  the  harmonica  as  his  indepen¬ 
dent  activity,  but  he  does  so  for  no  compelling  reason;  it  is  merely 
unskilled  noodling.  Lila  knocks  timidly  on  the  door  and  enters 
when  Bruce  opens  it  for  her.  Rose  Marie,  who  is  sitting  in  the 
front  row  next  to  Meisner’s  desk,  gasps.  Lila  has  chosen  to  cos¬ 
tume  herself  in  a  flaming-red  woolen  bathrobe  with  matching 
slippers.  She  is  affecting  a  generalized  emotional  state.  On  seeing 
her,  Bruce  says,  “I  thought  you’d  never  get  here.’1 

Meisner  is  visibly  distressed,  and  after  a  few  minutes  removes 
his  glasses  and  covers  his  eyes  with  his  hands,  his  head  bent  over 
his  desk.  In  another  minute,  he  interrupts  the  exercise. 


THE  KNOCK  ON  THE  DOOR 


53 


“There  is  so  much  to  talk  about  here,”  he  says,  lifting  his  head 
and  repositioning  his  glasses.  “First  of  all,  Lila,  you  are  playing 
a  part,  the  part  of  some  unhappy  woman.” 

“True,”  Lila  says,  sitting  beside  Bruce  on  the  bed. 

“Where  did  you  get  that  red — that  costume?” 

“The  robe?  It  was  given  to  me  years  ago.” 

“You  brought  it  in  because  it  fit  the  part?”  Meisner  asks. 

“Maybe.  I  didn’t  think  of  it  that  way,  but  that  could  be  behind 
it  and  I  didn’t  realize  it.” 

“What  did  you  wear  when  you  came  to  class?” 

“Black  sweater  and  pants.” 

“That’s  what  you  should  have  done  the  exercise  in.” 

“Right,”  Lila  says  simply. 

“In  other  words,  if  you  don’t  give  up  acting  out  your  cliches, 
I  can’t  help  you  to  learn  how  to  act.  I’m  trying  to  get  you  to  do 
an  exercise,  not  to  play  a  part.” 

“I  understand.  I  knew  I  was  way  off  base — ” 

“No  talking!”  Meisner  exclaims,  and  the  extent  of  his  distress 
is  evident  in  the  sharpness  of  his  tone.  “Yes,  you  were  way  off 
base.  You  were  way  off  base.  You  were  like  somebody — I’ll  say 
this  and  then  won’t  say  any  more — you  were  like  somebody 
who’s  been  playing  the  piano  for  years  by  ear,  who  decides  to 
study  the  instrument  and  finds  a  teacher — this  is  not  meant  un¬ 
kindly — who  says;  ‘Okay,  learn  to  do  that.’  ”  Meisner  holds  his 
right  hand  before  him  as  if  he  were  seated  at  the  keyboard  of  a 
piano.  “  ‘Learn  to  raise  a  finger  without  tensing  and  then  drop 
it.  Then  learn  to  raise  another.’  And  he  takes  you  back  to  the 
absolute  beginning  of  learning  how  to  play.  And  if  I  were  that 
teacher,  I  wouldn’t  say  to  you  that  when  you  come  to  take  your 
first  lesson  you  should  be  sure  to  dress  like  Wanda  Landowska, 
a  great  harpsichordist  who’s  been  dead  for  about  forty  years! 
Wear  gold  lam6  with  a  train  thirty  feet  long!  I  don’t  tell  you  to 
dress  for  the  exercise.  If  you’ve  got  slacks  on,  that’s  what  you  do 
it  in!” 

“Right.” 

“Now,  you,”  Meisner  says,  looking  at  Bruce.  “An  independent 
activity  has  to  have  two  things.  It  must  be  difficult  and  there  must 
be  a  compelling  reason  why  you  are  doing  it.  If  you  had  picked 


a  piece  of  music  you  had  never  played  before  in  your  life,  that  y 
unfamiliarity  would  be  part  of  the  difficulty  in  learning  how  to 
play  it.  You  follow?” 

“Yeah.” 

“I  say,  ‘You  follow?’  and  you  say,  ‘Yeah!’  ” 

“I  can’t  play  a  Chopin  etude  on  this  harmonica  because  I  don’t 
know  how  it  goes  in  my  head,”  Bruce  says. 

“Then  pick  a  piece  that  fits  that  instrument,  one  you  know  but 
have  never  played,  and  practice  it  with  all  the  difficulties  that 
involves.  I  don’t  care  if  you  choose  to  learn  ‘Deutschland  iiber  alles,  ’ 
as  long  as  you  learn  to  play  it  like  a  virtuoso!  And  the  next  thing 
is,  why  is  it  absolutely  imperative  that  you  learn  to  play  ‘Deutsch¬ 
land  iiber  alles'  on  the  harmonica?  If  you  decide  why,  you  are 
exercising  your  imagination.  If  it  is  difficult,  it  will  intensify  your 
concentration.  When  something  is  difficult  to  do,  it  forces  you  to 
use  your  concentration.  Have  I  made  myself  clear?” 

Bruce  nods,  and  Meisner  shifts  his  gaze  back  to  Lila.  He  is 
profoundly  disturbed.  , 

“God  almighty,  woman,  stop  acting!  I  can’t  stand  it!  Give  the 
problems  here  your  attention,  your  concentration  and  your  time. 
Don’t  behave  as  if  acting  were  something  that  any  amateur  can 
turn  on!  It’s  not  true!  I  can  understand  why,  after  a  good  many 
years  of  acting,  it’s  hard  for  you  to  throw  off  your  habits.  I  can 
understand  where  you  got  the  idea  to  dress  for  the  part.  But  it’s 
nonsense!” 

*‘T  ~ _ _ >> 

1  agree. 

“All  right,  you  agree..  You  both  are  making  me  be  very  sharp 
and  determined  because  you  don't  put  enough  work  into  what  you're 
doing!  And  don’t  tell  me  that  you  do!  I’m  a  past  master  at  knowing 
what  has  been  thought  out!  I  will  not  let  you  take  this  any  more 
lightly  than  I  do!  Now,  I  beg  you,  work  the  way  a  real  actor 
works,  bring  in  the  result  of  your  efforts,  and  I  will  be  the  first 
to  recognize  it.  But  don’t  throw  something  at  me  as  if  I  were  an 
amateur  that  didn’t  know  the  difference!  I  repeat.  Lila,  don’t  act. 
Bruce,  an  independent  activity  has  to  be  difficult  because  that 
strengthens  your  concentration,  and  it  has  to  be  justified  because 
everything  must  have  a  reason  for  being.  I  don’t  care  if  it’s  only 
because  there’s  a  part  you  want  to  play  and  in  order  to  play  it  you 


ffiave  to  learn  to  play,  that  German  song  like  a  master!  Have  I  made 
‘‘myself  clear?” 

0:  “Yes,  extremely,”  Lila  says. 

“Well,  okay,  my  friends,”  Meisner  says.  The  episode  has 
drained  him,  and  his  voice,  though  amplified,  is  no  more  than  a 
whisper.  “I  have  all  the  sympathy  that  you  need,  but  please  give 
me  back  a  percentage  of  what  I  give  you  instead  of  kicking  me 
in  the  ass  and  thinking  you’re  going  to  get  away  with  it.  I  won’t 
have  it.  This  country  is  full  of  actors  who  have  been  trained 
beautifully — by  me!  But  they  worked!  I  say,  ‘Don’t  act,  don’t 
fake,  don’t  pretend — work!’  That  will  train  your  concentration, 
your  actor’s  faith  and,  maybe,  your  emotion.  Then  you  can  hold 
up  your  head  and  say  you’re  learning  how  to  act,  and  I  can  hold 
up-mine  and  say  I'm  teaching  you.”  - 

li 

“Oh  my  God,  that  Lila!  After  a  scene  like  that  I  feel  so  dis¬ 
couraged  and  old!” 

Meisner  unlocks  the  door  of  his  office.  “It’s  brutal,  you  know, 
on  me  as  well  as  on  them.  But  they  provoked  me  and  I  couldn’t 
help  myself.  It’s  not  something  to  be  proud  of,  but  scenes  like  this 
do  happen  and  they  are  nothing  to  be  ashamed  of  either.  Besides, 
I’m  too  old  to  worry  about  it.” 

He  enters  and  Scott  Roberts  follows.  “Sandy,”  he  says,  “I  got 
the  job.  They  asked  me  to  direct  the  Cocteau  play  next  season  at 
Circle  Rep.” 

“That’s  terrific,”  Meisner  says.  “I’m  proud  of  you.” 

“I  hope  you’ll  come  to  see  it,”  Scott  says. 

“Yes,”  Meisner  says,  “if  I’m  still  alive— and  that’s  a  big  ‘if _ 

I’ll  come  to  see  it.” 

“Good.  I  just  wanted  you  to  know.  I’ll  see  you  on  Monday.” 

“Good-night,”  Meisner  says. 

“You  know,”  Meisner  says,  picking  up  his  black  wool  coat  with 
a  mink  collar  from  the  office  daybed,  “twenty  or  more  years  ago, 
Lila  was  a  star — musical  comedies  mostly,  but  (light  straight 
plays,  too.  She  was  beautiful  and  she  could  belt  out  a  song.  Scott 


56  ; 

tells  me  she  does  television  commercials  now.  I  wouldn’t  know; 
I  don’t  see  well  enough  to  watch  television  anymore.” 

He  turns  off  the  light  and  locks  the  office  door.  “Iwas  surprised 
and  touched  when  she  called  me  last  spring  and  asked  to  become 
a  student.  It  must  be  very  humbling  to  return  to  square  one.  She 
realized,  she  said,  that  if  she  wanted  to  go  on  working  in  the 
theater,  she  would  have  to  grow,  to  deepen  herself  as  an  actress. 
And  she’s  right,  I  think.  Well,  we’ll  see.  Maybe  after  a  class  like 
this  she’ll  quit.” 

Meisner  walks  slowly  to  the  elevator.  “I  am  heartened,  though, 
by  the  progress  of  most  of  the  others.  Do  you  remember  the 
exercise  Joseph  did  with  me  several  classes  ago?  ‘You  re  busy. 
‘Yes,  I’m  busy.’  Simple,  unforced  and  clear.  He  held  his  own. 
John,  and  also  Anna,  strike  me  as  very  talented.  Well,  we’ll  see. 
Right  now,  I’m  delighted  to  go  home.  After  a  day  like  this,  I  need 
a  good,  stiff  drink!” 


Beyond  Repetition 


student:  I’m  getting  the  feeling:  Don’t  think — do! 
meisner:  That’s  a  very  good  feeling  to  have.  That’s  an  actor 
thinking.  How  does  an  actor  think?  He  doesn’t  think — he 
does. 

student:  Right. 

meisner:  That’s  a  good  feeling. 


October  31 


“Listen,  everybody.  Next  time,  the  person  who  comes  in  has  to 
have  a  reason  for  coming  in.  And  the  reason  has  to  be  simple  and 
specific  and  not  death-defying  in  its  urgency.  In  other  words, 
come  in  for  a  can  of  soup,  not  because  your  brother  is  pinned 
under  a  truck  on  the  street  and  they  can’t  get  him  out.  Suppose 
you’re  having  a  party  and  your  neighbor,  your  partner,  has  a  rare 
collection  of  Sinatra.  So  you  want  to  borrow  it.  But  no  more 
dramatic  than  that.  It  gives  you  a  reason  for  knocking  at  the  door 
and  then  you’ll  forget  it  anyway.  You’re  making  a  spaghetti  sauce 
and  you  have  no  oregano.  See?” 

“So  that  influences  the  knock,”  says  Ray.  “The  knock  isn’t 
arbitrary,  right?” 


* 


“ The  knock  is  just  as  it  is,  one  knock.  But  if  you  come  in  for  -1 
a  pinch  of  oregano,  what  the  hell  kind  of  knock  does  that  indi- 
cate?”  '! 


John  raises  his  hand.  *  _•  :;3 

“I  have  a  question.  When  I  was  outside,  before  knocking  on  --|j 
the  door  I  made  up  a  little  story  for  myself  because  you  said  | 
that  the  person  who  came  in  should  have  something  he  needs  ;| 
from  the  partner.  About  halfway  through  I  was  going  to  bring  :;j 
it  into  the  exercise,  but  I  didn’t  because  I  was  unsure  if  you  y 
wanted  it  brought  up  or  if  you  just  wanted  it  to  root  us.  A 

“Just  to  root  you.  Never  bring  it  up,  because  the  script  will 
bring  it  up  anyway.  Hamlet  doesn’t  keep  secret  what’s  making 
him  feel  so  lousy.  You  follow?” 


November  3 


“The  question  for  today  is  what,  if  anything,  are  you  getting 
from  this  procedure?  What,  and  in  what  way,  if  any,  are  you 
being  helped  by  this  process?  Based  on  the  fact  that  none  of  you 
are  kids  and  all  of  you  have  had  experience,  what’s  been  going 


on  with  you  in  this  class? 

Rose  Marie  raises  her  hand.  “What  I  am  trying  to  concentrate 
on  is  forgetting  everything  I’ve  done  before  and  just  listening  to 
what’s  going  on  and  not  applying  it  to  anything  else.  I’m  a  little 
confused,  but  that’s  okay.’ 

“Why  are  you  confused?” 

“Because  I  don’t  know  how  I’m  going  to  listen  and  answer 
truthfully,  moment  to  moment,  when  I  get  a  script. 

“That’s  the  way  you  are  going  to  begin  with  a  script.  Be  patient, 
you’ll  soon  see.  Who  else  has  something  to  say?  Curiously  enough 
—just  a  minute,  Lila— for  a  class  who  has  had  considerable  expe¬ 
rience,  there  are  not  many  problems  involved.  Lila,  what  s  your 


question?”  ,  . 

“I  had  no  question.  I  thought  I  would  try  to  answer  what  this 

class  means  to  me  so  far.” 


ppfs?CFhe  answer  to  what  it  means  to  you  is  one  word.” 
§JJ:“Truth?” 

||fc  “Reality.  The  truth  of  your  instincts  is  the  root  of  your  founda- 
tion.  Right?” 

&  “Right.” 

“You  see,  you’ve  all  had  experience.  That’s  not  only  my  prob- 
;■  lem,  it’s  your  problem,  too.  Ray?” 

f  “I  was  going  to  say  in  answer  to  your  question  about  what  this 
p  class  means  is  that  it  seems  to  me  that  usually  when  I  have  acted 
v  well,  it  has  been  by  accident.  And  finding  a  way  to  act  well  on 
a  regular  basis  is  maybe  what  this  class  is  doing  for  me,  I  think.” 
r}  “That’s  great.” 

:f  “The  other  way,”  Ray  adds,  “the  way  that  Lee  Strasberg  and 
the  Actors  Studio  people  use,  seems  to  do  the  opposite.  They 
make  you  go  inside,  and  you  can  get  stuck  in  there/’ 

“That’s  right.  I  told  Lee  that  when  he  was  alive.  I  said  to  him, 
‘You  introvert  the  already  introverted.  All  actors,’  I  said,  ‘like  all 
p  artists,,  are  introverted  because  they  live  on  what’s  going  on  in 
their  instincts,  and  to  attempt  to  make  that  conscious  is  to  con¬ 
fuse  the  actor.’  Needless  to  say,  he  didn’t  pay  any  attention  to  me, 
but  that’s  the  reason  I’m  a  better  teacher  than  he  was.” 

“Listen,  Philip,  how  do  you  feel?” 

“Up-tight,”  the  fair-haired  young  man  replies  instantly.  Then 
|  he  stammers  nervously,  “I — how  do  I  feel?  Now?” 

\  “That’s  what  I  said.” 

“I  feel  nervous,”  Philip  says,  sitting  dejectedly  on  the  bed. 
Sarah,  his  partner,  sits  beside  him. 

“Don’t  you  know  that  you’re  always  going  to  feel  nervous? 
}:  You’re  the  nervous  type.  What  makes  you  feel  nervous?” 

“1  hinking  that  other  people  will  see  me  nervous.” 

“How  do  you  want  other  people  to  see  you?” 

“Relaxed.” 

“Well,  they’ll  think  you’re  relaxed  if  you  don’t  tell  them  you’re 
nervous,  because  you  don’t  look  nervous.  It  comes  out,  though,  in 
a  certain  indecision  about  just  repeating.  How  are  you  going  to 
;  fix  that?” 


60 

“I’m  going  to  deal  more  with  my  partner.” 

“And  less  with  .  .  .  ?” 

“Me?”  '  .  .  < 

“Your  nervousness.  How  did  you  get  so  nervous?” 

“I’m  not  so  sure.  Maybe  a  lot  of  sugar,  a  lot  of  coffee — ” 

“A  lot  of  parents!” 

“Parents?”  Philip  asks.  “Yeah,  they  did  it.”  The  class  laughs. 

“I  told  you  what  to  do  to  your  mother.” 

“Kick  her?  Just  kick  her?” 

“I  didn’t  say  kick  her,  I  said  retaliate.” 

“Punch  her  out?” 

“I’ll  tell  you  what.  Don’t  punch  her  out,  just  lay  all  your 
attention  on  Sarah  and  stop  announcing  to  the  world  how  ner¬ 
vous  you  are.  Everybody's  nervous!  Aren’t  you?”  The  class  re¬ 
sponds  with  a  chorus  of  “Yes.” 

“You  know,  you  get  better  all  the  time.  You  don’t  have  real 
freedom  yet,  as  you  well  know,  because  you’re  always  afraid 
you’ll  be  wrong.  I  think  that’s  where  your  mother  comes  in.” 

“And  father.” 

“Him  too?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Stay  away  from  them.” 

“I  do  that  as  much  as  I  can.” 

“Then  put  all  your  attention  on  Sarah.”  Meisner  regards 
Philip  and  adds,  “It  gets  better.  You  had  long  passages  in  there 
that  were  pure  without  your  announcing  how  you  felt.  Nobody 
gives  a  damn  how  you  feel,  you  know?  Nobody  cares.  We  care 
when  your  concern  about  how  you  feel  hurts  your  exercise.  What 
do  you  want?  For  us  to  burst  into  tears  because  you’re  nervous? 
To  hell  with  us!  Put  your  attention  on  Sarah  and  repeat  what  you 
hear,  okay?”  As  Philip  and  Sarah  return  to  their  seats  Meisner 
removes  his  microphone  and  whispers  to  Scott  Roberts,  “You 
know,  he  gets  better  all  the  time.” 

“Now,  I’m  not  talking  about  anybody  in  particular;  I’m  talking 
in  general.  Where  is  the  performance  born  in  good  actors?  What 


|>  BEYOND  REPETITION  6  1 

makes  a  Maureen  Stapleton?  Where  does  her  performance  come 
:  from?” 

“Herself,”  Ray  says. 

“In  her  ability  to  believe  in  the  given  circumstances  of  the 
script,”  John  adds. 

“She  has  great  actor’s  faith,”  Meisner  says.  “What  is  actor’s 
faith?” 

“She  believes  that  the  imaginary  circumstances  are  truer  than 
true,”  Joseph  says. 

“Let’s  just  say  that  she  believes  they  are  true.  What  else? 
Ralph?” 

“You’re  willing  to  believe  it  even  though  you  may  doubt  that 
it’s  true.” 

“A  real  actor  finds  a  way  of  eliminating  the  doubt.” 

Vince  holds  up  his  hand.  “You  do  it  for  its  own  sake  without 
having  to  understand  it  intellectually.” 

“What  does  intellect  have  to  do  with  acting?”  Meisner  asks. 
“Nothing,”  Vince  says.  Meisner  nods,  and  for  a  moment  seems 
lost  in  thought. 

“Next  week  I’m  going  to  start  you  with  scripts,  which  we  will 
treat  as  if  they  were  exercises.  They’re  usually  better  parts  than 
you  normally  get  to  play,  even  though  they’re  very  old-fashioned. 
They  all  have  a  human  problem.  Scott,  it’s  up  to  you  when  I  give 
them  out.” 

“I’ll  have  them  on  Monday,”  Scott  Roberts  says.  . 

“I’d  like  to  start  on  the  problem  of  preparation  before  Christ¬ 
mas,”  Meisner  says  with  a  sly  grin.  “I  hope  it  doesn’t  ruin  your 
holiday.” 

November  7 

“Joseph,  for  the  most  part  you  were  all  right.  But  there’s  occa¬ 
sionally  a  tendency  to  be  logical  and  mental.  Now,  when  you  get 
to  a  text — which  is  coming  up — you  don’t  have  to  worry  about 
being  logical  because  the  text  does  it  for  you.  If  the  script  has 
your  partner  announce  that  he  is  going  to  get  drunk,  the  play- 


62 

wright  will  give  you  an  appropriate  response.  But  in  this  exercise 
if  you  stick  to  the  repetition,  which  is  illogical  and  comes  purely 
from  what  you  hear,  you’ll  overcome  a  tendency  to  use  your  head 
logically.  Do  you  understand?” 

“Yes.”  ,w. 

“Beethoven  had  a  landlady  who  reported  that  after  he  had  been 
working  for  a  certain  period  of  time,  he  took  a  pail  of  cold  water 
and  poured  it  over  his  head.  He  was  a  nut,  but  that  need  for  water 
wouldn’t  have  happened  if  he  was  working  logically  from  his 
head.  He  needed  it. because  he  was  working  from  his  intestines. 
That’s  why  he  was  so  emotionally  overheated.”  Meisner  pauses 
to  put  out  a  cigarette.  “Joseph,  you  were  right  to  go  when  you 
did.  The  impulse  to  go  was  genuine.  She  provoked  it  and  you  got 
the  message,  right?  Acting  is  all  a  give-and-take  of  those  impulses 
affecting  each  person.  Am  I  making  myself  clear?” 

“Yes,”  Joseph  says. 

“Am  I  to  you?”  He  asks  Joseph’s  partner,  Beth,  whose  hair  has 
been  pulled  back  from  her  face  with  a  black  ribbon.  She  nods. 
“What  were  you  doing?” 

“I  was  filling  out  some  forms  in  order  to  get  an  important 
project  approved,  and  I  didn’t  realize  that  there  was  a  deadline. 
They  have  to  be  in  the  mail  by  midnight.” 

“If  that  activity  were  as  significant  as  your  words  tell  me  it  was, 
Beth,  this  would  have  been  a  different  exercise  because  you 
would  have  been  totally  involved,  and  Joseph  would  have  been 
in  an  upheaval.  You  follow?  Beth  could  have  driven  Joseph  crazy 
with  that  exercise  if  she’d  made  this  activity  more  important  than 
the  repetition.” 

“Well,  this  was  absolutely  real  to  me  in  the  sense  that  it  was 
more  important  than  anything  else,”  Beth  says  defensively. 

“I  can  only  accept  that  if  it’s  in  your  behavior.  Beethoven 
couldn’t  pour  a  pail  of  water  over  his  head  to  cool  off  unless  what 
he  was  doing  was  a  very  strong,  inner  experience.  Try  to  tighten 
the  repetition.  Try  to  let  it  move  in  its  organic  rhythm.  Don’t  be 
torn  between  ‘sense’  and  the  emotional  impact  of  so-called  ‘sense¬ 
less’  repetition.” 

“Would  you  say  that  again?”  Beth  asks. 


ft  BEYOND  REPETITION  63 

“What  did  I  say?” 

“You  said  don’t  be  caught  between  ‘sense,’  ”  replies  Joseph, 
“and  the  impact  of  the  .  .  .  the  emotional  impact ...  of  the  so-called 
‘senseless’  repetition.” 

“Why  did  you  come  into  the  room,  or  have  you  forgotten?” 

“I  came  in  to  invite  her  to  go  to  a  party  with  me.” 

“Had  she  lived  truthfully  under  the  imaginary  circumstances 
imposed  by  her  independent  activity,  this  could  easily  have 
ended  with  your  giving  her  the  old  heave-ho  and  going  to  the 
party  with  some  other  girl.  How  I  would  have  loved  that!  That 
would  have  been  marvelous!” 


November  10 

Before  John  and  Rose  Marie  begin  their  exercise,  she  helps  him 
move  the  long  table  to  the  center  of  the  room  and  push  the  bed 
against  the  back  wall.  Then  she  leaves  the  room,  closing  the  door 
behind  her.  John  sits  at  the  table,  takes  a  sheaf  of  typed  pages 
from  a  manila  envelope  and  begins  to  read  them  intently,  mark¬ 
ing  them  occasionally  with  a  red  pencil.  Suddenly  there  is  a  sharp 
rap  at  the  door,  then  another,  and  finally  a  third.  Reluctantly 
John  leaves  the  table  and  opens  the  door. 

“Persistent,”  he  says. 

“Yeah,  persistent,”  Rose  Marie  says,  framed  in  the  open  door¬ 
way. 

“Persistent,”  John  repeats. 

“Yeah,  something  wrong  with  that?”  Rose  Marie  inquires. 

“Something  wrong  with  that?” 

“Something  wrong  with  that?” 

“Nothing  wrong  with  that,”  John  says,  and  for  a  moment 
hesitates. 

“Are  you  inviting  me  in?”  Rose  Marie  asks. 

“Am  I  inviting  you  in?” 

“Yeah,  are  you  inviting  me  in?” 

...  “Am  I  inviting — ” 

“Yeah,”  Rose  Marie  snaps,  “some  big  question?” 


64 

“Well,  it’s  not  a  big  question,”  John  says  with  annoyance.  “In 
or  out?” 

“In  or  out!” 

“In  or  out?” 

“What  is  this;  an  interrogation?”  Rose  Marie  asks. 

“No,  it’s  not  an  interrogation,”  John  says.  Rose  Marie  glares 
at  him  defiantly.  “In  or  out!”  he  exclaims. 

“Don’t  treat  me  like  a  baby,”  she  warns. 

“I’m  not  treating  you  like  a  baby.”  . 

“You’re  treating  me  like  a  baby.”  ■ 

“In  or  out,”  John  says  with  great  finality.  After  a  moment, 
Rose  Marie  walks  into  the  room.  John  closes  the  door,  then  moves 
quickly  to  the  table  and  resumes  editing  his  papers. 

“That’s  pretty  stupid,”  Rose  Marie  remarks,  looking  at  his 
seated  figure.  “So  I’m  not  here  now!”  John  glances  in  annoyance 
at  her  for  a  moment,  then  returns  to  work.  “You  have  such  a 
mean  look!”  she  exclaims;  yet  she  continues  to  watch  him  work¬ 
ing  with  fascination. 

After  a  pause  Rose  Marie  says,  “That  must  be  pretty  hard.” 

“Yeah,  it’s  hard,”  John  says,  and  begins  to  chew  his  upper  lip. 

“Ah  ha!”  Rose  Marie  exclaims.  “You’re  chewing  your  mouth!” 

“Yeah,  I’m  chewing  my  mouth.” 

“Oh,  sorry.  You’re  so  businesslike.'” 

“I’m  so  businesslike.” 

“Right,”  Rose  Marie  says,  and  pauses  for  a  few  seconds  before 
taking  a  step  toward  the  table, 

“What  do  you  want?”  John  asks  sharply. 

“What  do  I  want?”  Rose  Marie  repeats, 

“What  do  you.  want?” 

“Are  you  pissed  off  at  me?” 

“Am  I  pissed  off  at  you?” 

“ Yeah ,  are  you  pissed  off  at  me?” 

“Yes,”  John  says  firmly,  “I’m  pissed  off  at  you.” 

“All  right,  I’ll  go.” 

,  “You’ll  go.” 

'  “Yeah,  I’ll  go.” 

“You’ll  go?” 


65 


Ip  BEYOND  REPETITION 

■  .  “That’s  what  you  want,  right?” 

T  “That’s  what  I  want,  right!” 

“You’re  being  mean.” 

/  “Mean?” 

•  “Yeah,  don’t  you  think  you  are?”  she  says.  He  glares  at  her. 
“Nice  look!”  After  a  moment  she  adds  quietly,  “You’re  just  being 
a  jerk.”  She  regards  him  intently  and  then  walks  firmly  to  the 
door  and  closes  it  behind  her. 

“Scott,”  Meisner  says  to  his  assistant,  “we’d  better  get  to  those 
scenes  quickly  because  they’re  playing  them!  That  was  a  scene, 
you  know.  It  was  a  scene.  ” 

“It  was?”  Rose  Marie  asks,  coming  back  in. 

“Oh,  sure.  It  was  not  a  repetition  exercise,  but  I’ll  tell  you  this; 
if  you  were  the  right  type  for  a  part,  if  you  looked  like,  as  they 
say,  ‘the  girl,’  and  if  you,  John,  fit  the  playwright’s  description 
v;  of  ‘the  man’  and  you  played  your  scene  with  this  much  unforced, 
simple,  unpushed  reality,  you’d  be  good!  But  it  wasn’t  repetition, 
except  occasionally.  It  was  really  a  scene.  What  point  am  I  mak- 
:  ing?” 

Ray  leans  forward  in  his  seat.  “Instead  of  sticking  to  the  rule 
|  of  the  exercise  where  you  repeat  and  repeat  and  repeat  until 
something  changes  what  it  is  that  you  are  repeating,  they  left  all 
that  unsaid  and  emotionally  went  from  one  thing  to  another. 
And  it  had  its  own  sort  of  logic  about  how  long  she  was  going 
to  be  allowed  to  stay  in  the  room,  how  angry  he  was — ” 

“Were  they  relaxed?” 

.“Very,”  Ray  says. 

“Were  they  emotionally  true?” 

“Yes,”  Joseph  says. 

“Was  their  dialogue  acceptable  as  simple,  truthful  dialogue?” 
Heads  nod  in  agreement.  “That’s  what  you  had;  you  had  a  scene. 
Occasionally  you  went  back  to  the  exercise,  but  this  kind  of 
relaxation,  plus  working  off  each  other,  is  what  makes  a  scene.” 
Meisner  looks  at  John  and  Rose  Marie,  who  stand  opposite  him 
behind  the  table.  “In  a  way  I’m  paying  you  a  compliment,  while 
at  the  same  time  I'm  not  really  crazy  about  the  fact  that  you’re 
already  playing  a  scene.” 


66 

November  14 

“John,  take  her  by  the  left  arm  and  throw  her  out!  Right 
now!” 

John  grabs  Wendy’s  arm,  coolly  pushes  her  out  the  door  and 
slams  it  shut. 

“Now,  y.ou  should  have  done  that  without  my  suggesting  it. 
Why  didn’t  you?” 

“Because  it  didn’t  seem  valid  in  terms  of  doing  the  exercise.  I 
know  what  you’re  saying — that  my  impulse  should  have  been  to 
throw  her  out  because  she  really  was  bothering  me.” 

“So  why  didn’t  you?” 

“Because  I  didn’t.” 

“So  why  didn’t  you?” 

“Because  I  was  working  out  of  my  head.  I  was  doing  what  I 
thought  I  should  be  doing.” 

“If  you  threw  her  out,  there  wouldn’t  be  any  exercise?” 

“Right.” 

“But  the  point  is  that  you  do  exercises  in  order  to  train  yourself 
to  follow  the  truth!”. 

“I  know.  I  just  missed  it,  that’s  all.” 

“Look,  let  me  tell  you  something  seriously.  In  life  .  .  .  life  is 
terrible,  I  think.  But  on  the  stage  you  have  a  wonderful  opportu¬ 
nity  to  tell  the  truth,  and  all  that  can  come  of  it  is  praise.  That  s 
true,  do  you  understand?”  John  nods.  “Your  work  is  all  right,  but 
the  quality  is  more  important  than  the  quantity.  What  does  that 
mean?” 

“It  means  that  even  if  the  exercise  had  gone  on  only  a  quarter 
as  long,  if  I  had  followed  my  impulse  to  throw  her  out,  it  would 
have  been  much  more  truthful.”' 

“And  to  your  ultimate  advantage  as  an  actor.  Do  you  see? 

“Yes.” 


November  17 

“I  have  a  surprise  for  you  all  today — scripts!  They  are  all  old-hat 
scenes,  antiques,  but  they’re  perfect  for  our  immediate  needs. 


W:- ;  • 

BEYOND  REPETITION  67 

These  scenes  are  old-fashioned  only  in  the  sense  that  they  were 
written  before  you  were  born.  But  every  one  of  them  has  a 
compelling  human  problem;  that’s  why  I  picked  them.  I  want 
you  to  take  your  script  and  learn  it  without  meaning,  without 
readings,  without  interpretation,  without  anything.  Just  learn  the 
lines  by  rote,  mechanically.  I  want  that  to  be  very  clear.  ‘To / 
be/or/not/to/be/that/is/the/question:’ ”  As  Meisner  coldly  re¬ 
cites  the  famous  line,  his  hand  taps  his  desk  mechanically  on  each 
syllable.  “No  tsuris — that’s  French  for  trouble — no  iambic  pen¬ 
tameter,  nothing  but  the  cold  text.  Then,  when  you  know  the 
words  mechanically,  with  ease,  take  a  walk  with  your  partner — 
any  street  will  do — and  go  over  the  text  so  that  you  know  yours 
and  she  knows  hers.  If  you  want  to  stop  off  and  get  a  cup  of  coffee, 
it’s  okay  with  me.  Do  the  lines  then.  Shock  the  busboy  who’s 
studying  at  the  American  Academy.  ‘They  don’t  know  what 
they’re  saying!  They  speak  like  robots!’  Shock  the  pants  off  him!” 

November  21 

With  cold,  mechanical  precision,  John  and  Ralph  have  just  re¬ 
cited  a  scene  from  Mister  Roberts. 

“Okay,”  Meisner  begins,  “they  said  those  lines  in  a  way  that 
must  be  terribly  alien  to  you,  right?  No  meaning,  no  readings. 
Nothing  that  rote  permits  anybody  to  see  as  a  human  experience. 
Now,  does  anyone  have  any  suspicion  of  what  I’m  getting  at 
here?  Bette,  what’s  your  suspicion?” 

Bette,  the  daughter  of  a  famous  comedienne  recently  married 
to  a  producer  of  television  commercials,  looks  relaxed,  but  there 
is  an  edge  of  nervous  energy  contained  just  beneath  the  surface. 
“I  had  a  glimmer  when  Bruce  and  I  were  practicing.  I  felt  that 
it’s  so  raw  and  so  untouched  when  we  do  it  by  rote  that  what  we 
can  add  to  it  emotionally  is  unlimited  because  we  are  free  of 
immediately  insisting  that  it  be  read  one  way  or  another,” 

“I  like  what  you  said.  ‘Raw.’  You  follow?  Raw.  ’  I’m  insisting 
on  this  mechanical  approach  in  order  to  avoid  calculated  results. 
John?” 

“I  think  it’s  tough,”  John  says. 


68 

“You  think  it’s  tough?”  ....... 

“You  know,  on  the  way  over  here  we  were  doing  it  and  there 
were  times  Ralph  said  to  me,  ‘You’re  reading,  you’re  doing  a 
reading.’  I  guess  I  fell  into  that  old  pattern  I’ve  done  all  my  life.” 

“That’s  right,”  Meisner  replies. “I’m  trying  to  eliminate  a 
habit  that,  as  you  said,  you’ve  done  all  your  acting  life.  In  order 
to  build  up  performances  which  are  coming  out  of  you,  which  are 
coming  out  of  your  emotional  grasp  of  the  material,  I  choose  to 
reduce  you  to  a  neutral,  meaningless,  inhuman  object — a  robot, 
call  it  what,  you  like.  In  order  to  fill  those  words  with  the  truth 
of  your  emotional  life  you’re  first  going  to  learn  the  text  coldly, 
without  expression,  in  a  completely  neutral  way.” 


“I  want  to  show  you  something.  John,  come  over  here.” 

John  leaves  his  seat  and  stands  next  to  the  desk.  Meisner  moves 
around  it  to  stand  next  to  him. 

“Now  turn  around,”  he  says.  “Make  your  position  as  firm  and 
as  rigid  as  you  can.  If  necessary,  hold  on  to  the  desk  but  make 
yourself  absolutely  steadfast.” 

“Okay.”  .. 

“I  don’t  think  you’re  solid  enough.  Are  you?” 

“Yeah.” 

Meisner  places  the  palms  of  both  hands  on  John’s  shoulders 
and  attempts  to  budge  him.  “I  don’t  make  any  impression  on 
him!”  he  says.  “I’ll  try  again.  John,  do  the  same  thing.” 

Again  John  holds  on  to  the  edge  of  the  desk,  so  tightly  that  the 
knuckles  of  his  hands  turn  white. 

“He’s  stiff!”  Meisner  says,  and  then  spells  the  word  “ S-t-i-f '/” 
The  class  laughs.  “Now,  John,  relax.” 

John  lets  go  of  the  desk,  turns  and  shakes  the  tension  from  his 
arms  and  shoulders.  Meisner  gives  him  a  firm  but  gentle  shove 
and  John  takes  two  long,  loose  steps  forward. 

“He’s  responsive!  Do  you  see  that?  Relax.”  Meisner  pushes  him 
again,  and  again  John  ambles  forward.  “He’s  responsive  to  what 
I  do.  Thank  you,  John.  Sit  down. 

“Now,  if  you  are  neutral . .  .  Neutral — what’s  that  mean?  Open 


BEYOND  REPETITION  69 

to  any  influence,  right?  If  you  are  neutral,  you  will  achieve  a  kind 
of  emotional  flexibility,  won’t  you?  If  you’re  tense,  if  you’re 
unrelaxed,  like  John  was  at  the  beginning,  you’re  not  responsive 
to  the  influence  of  my  push.  Consequently  I  say  a  logical  thing: 
I  say,  ‘Learn  that  text  in  as  unmeaningful  and  yet  in  as  relaxed 
a  way  as  you  can,  so  that  you’ll  be  open  to  any  influence  that 
comes  to  you.’  Do'  you  follow  the  logic  of  that?  If  you  don’t, 
say  so.” 

“Neutral  and  relaxed,”  Philip  says.  “Not  firm  and  tense.” 

“Not  set,  not  fixed.  I’m  saying  to  you  as  actors  who  work 
constantly  with  texts,  with  words,  ‘Learn  those  words  as  empty, 
as  unfixed,  as  relaxed  as  John  was  when  I  pushed  him.’  Is  there 
any  question  about  this?  That’s  why  I’m  asking  you  to  learn  these 
lines  with  the  precision  of  a  machine.  Mechanical  precision. 
Then  we’ll  go  on  from  there.” 

“If  you  find  yourself  reading  the  words,  putting  something 
into  them,  do  you  slow  down  or  stop  or  what?”  Philip  asks. 

“You  stop.  Look,  I’m  going  to  give  you  a  line.  ‘Oh,  God,  my 
soul  is  bleeding.’  Let  me  hear  you  say  that.” 

“Oh,  God,”  Philip  says,  “my  soul  is  bleeding.” 

“Now  say  it  expressively.” 

“Oh,  God,  my  soul  is  bleeding,”  Philip  says  with  added  vol¬ 
ume. 

“More!”  Meisner  says.  “Don’t  you  believe  in  God?  And  in 
pain?”  . 

“Oh  God,  ”  Philip  bellows,  “my  soul  is  bleeding!” 

“That’s  what  I  don't  want  you  to  do.  You  follow?”  Meisner 
recites  the  line  quietly,  mechanically.  “  ‘Oh/God/my/soul/is/ 
bleed /ing.’  Eventually  that  line  will  come  right,  out  of  the  heart 
of  you.” 


Meisner  interrupts  Dave,  who  has  been  reading  his  scene  in  a 
spooky,  mechanical  way,  with  the  objection  that,  as  is  his  ten¬ 
dency,  Dave  has  gone  too  far;  the  work  is  too  mechanical. 
“Dave,  explain  to  me  what  I  said  to  you.” 

“You  want  it  repeated  mechanically  and  neutrally.” 


70 


•  “That’s  right.” 

“I’m  putting  too  much  into  it.” 

“In  what  way  are  you  putting  too  much  into  it?” 

“Overemphasizing  the  mechanicalness  of  it,  the  syllable  by 
syllable.” 

“That’s  right,”-  Meisner  says.  “What  did  I  say  to  you  about 
your  repetition?” 

“That  I  wasn’t  picking  up  on  the  behavior.  I  was  simply  re¬ 
peating  fof  the  sake  of  repeating.” 

“Isn’t  that  somewhat  like  this?  That  you’re  overdoing  the  ma¬ 
chine  part  of  it  a  little  too  much?” 

“I  was  doing  the  exercise  in  an  academic  way.  You  kept  saying, 
‘Repeat,  repeat,  repeat,’  and  basically  that’s  all  I  was  concentrat¬ 
ing  on.  I  was  doing  the  exercise  in  an  academic  way  instead  of 
just  letting  it  happen,  moment  to  moment.” 

“The  word  ‘academic’  is  well  chosen.” 

“I  find  this  very  tough  to  do,”  Dave’s  partner,  Joseph,  says. 

“You  do?  Why?” 

“We  learn  words  by  associating  them  with  the  way  we  say 
them — like,  ‘Oh,  how  nice  to  see  you.’  If  you  eliminate  all  that, 
you’ve  lost  your  footing.” 

“That’s  right,”  Meisner  says,  “until  you  are  mechanically,  ab¬ 
solutely  secure  in  this  text,  with  no  interpretation.” 

“But  we  all  memorize  by  using  an  emotion  to  give  the  words 
some  sort  of  significance  so  that  we  can  remember  them,”  Joseph 
says.  “So  it’s  usual  to  have  a  cadence  attached  to  the  way  we’re 
doing  it.” 

“Which  you  have  in  your  ear,  right?”  Meisner  asks.  “This  way 
of  working  eliminates  all  that.  What  might  be  the  value  of  this 
to  you?” 

“Well,”  Joseph  says,  “it  deprives  you  of  any  preconceived  emo¬ 
tional  associations,  so  that  once  you  learn  the  text  this  way,  the 
emotion  will  come  out  of  what  your  partner  is  giving  you.” 

“To  begin  with,”  Meisner  adds.  “So  that  you  don’t  have  the 
habit  of  saying,  ‘Go  to  the  store  and  get  me  a  salami  sandwich 
because  I  love  salami!’  ”  His  eerie  voice  through  the  microphone 
seems  to  slide  up  and  then  down  an  octave  on  the  word  “love,” 
and  the  class  laughs. 


BEYOND  REPETITION  7  1 

“The  ‘love’  is  a  cliche,”  Meisner  says.  “What  other  reactions 
are  there?  John?” 

“It  seems  that  whatever  we  do  get  out  of  this  exercise  is  going 
to  be  full  and  honest—” 

Meisner  interrupts.  “And  improvisational.  It’s  going  to  be  an 
improvisation.  Fundamentally  that’s  a  very  healthy  thing  to  do. 
It  strips  you  of  your  past  habits.” 

“I  like  that,”  Bette  says.  “I  like  that  a  lot.” 

“I  don’t  blame  you  in  the  least.” 


November  28 

Anna  and  Vincent,  whose  partners  are  absent,  get  ready  to  per¬ 
form  an  exercise.  Vincent  has*  an  independent  activity  (attempt¬ 
ing  to  memorize  a  script  in  preparation  for  an  audition),  and 
Anna  is  to  knock  and  enter  the  room.  Before  she  leaves,  Meisner 
calls  her  over  arid  whispers  a  brief  instruction  in  her  ear. 

The  effect  on  the  exercise  is  galvanizing.  Anna  enters  enraged. 
Though  the  exact  reason  for  her  anger  is  never  discussed,  her 
behavior  makes  it  clear  that  she  believes  that  Vincent  has  slan¬ 
dered  her.  She  is  livid,  and  Vincent  is  rendered  almost  speechless. 
Meisner  is  pleased. 

“Okay,”  he  says  when  Anna  slams  out  of  the  room,  “that  was 
very  good.  Now,  look,”  he  says  to  the  class,  “that  was  the  basic 
exercise,  but  it  had  something  added  to  it.  What?” 

“She  came  in  furious,”  Bette  says. 

“An  emotional  circumstance.  I,  as  the  director,  added  an  emo¬ 
tional  circumstance  to  the  exercise,  and  that  made  it  into  a  scene. 
In  an  exercise  there  is  no  learned  text.  All  of  you  are  now  in  the 
process  of  learning  a  text.  What’s  absent  from  that  learning  is 
what  we  just  witnessed — an  emotional  circumstance.” 

“Sandy,  would  you  say  again  what’s  missing?”  Joseph  asks. 

“What’s  missing  from  what  you’re  doing  now  with  these  texts 
is  anything  that  has  to  do  with  an  emotional  circumstance. 

“You’re  talking  about  our  learning  the  lines  mechanically?” 

“Yes.  In  the  future  .  .  .  But  that  brings  up  the  thorny  subject 
of  preparation,  which  I’m  saving  for  your  Christmas  present. 


72 


Anna,  that  was  very  good.  Vince  taught  you  some  naughty 
words.”  6  / 

“I  know.”  - 

“That’s  all  right,”  Meisner  says,  “you  taught  him  some  too.” 

“Let’s  talk  about  this.”  ,,  ...  ,  ,  ' 

Meisner  interrupts  a  scene  between  Rose  Marie  and  John.  A 
They  have  memorized  the  lines  and  are  saying  them  quietly,  but 
with  the  sound  of  human  conversation. 

What  we  re  looking  for  is  the  picking  up  not  of  cues  but  of 
impulses.  One  doesn’t  pick  up  cues,  one  picks  up  impulses.  I’ll 
show  you.  Rose  Marie,  say  something  to  me.” 

“You  have  very  smooth  skin.” 

-  “Yes,  but  keep  going.”  .  r. 

“You  have  very  smooth  skin.  It  looks  like  you  spend  a  lot  of 
.  time  in  the  sun.” 

“Yes,  I  have  smooth  skin,”  Meisner  says.  “Now,  when  did  the 
impulse  for  my  speech  come?  The  impulse  for  my  speech  came 
early!  At  the  beginning  of  the  speech.  I’ll  show  it  to  you  in  another 
way.  It’s  very  simple,  very  improvisational.  John,  ask  me  if  I  want 
a  drink,  and  then  tell  me  that  you  have  scotch,  vodka,  bourbon 
gin  and  a  lot  of  soft  drinks.”  ’ 

Sandy,  would  you  like  a  drink?  I  have  scotch,  vodka,  bourbon 
gin  and—”  ’  | 

Meisner,  whose  eyes  lit  up  and  whose  right  hand  waved  po- 
ltely  in  the  air  on  hearing  the  word  “scotch,”  interrupts  John’s 
litany  with  the  line  “Scotch,  please.” 

The  class  laughs. 

^  Now,  when  did  the  impulse  for  that  happen?” 

Scotch,”  says  Rose  Marie. 

At  the  beginning!  That’s  very  different,  picking  up  the  im¬ 
pulse  instead  of  picking  up  the  cue.” 

So  you’re  saying  that  if  the  impulse  is  at  the  beginning,  you  § 
must  sustain  it  until  he  stops  and  you  can  say,  ‘Scotch’?”  ? 

Until  the  cue  comes.  You  don’t  pick  up  cues,  you  pick  up  ^ 

impulses.  ”  r  '  3 

I  guess  it  s  a  matter  of  my  knowing  the  script  a  lot  better  i 

Jj 

t 

Vs 

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;,i  BEYOND  REPETITION  73 

in  order  to  be  able  to  tune  in  to  the  impulses,”  John  says. 

“Absolutely  right,”  Meisner  says.  “But  that’s  not  bad  for  the 
first  time.  That’s  the  way  a  script  initially  resolves  itself.  Rose 
Marie,  why  did  you  knock  on  the  door?” 

“I  thought  I  was  supposed  to  for  the  exercise.” 

“You  live  here!” 

“I  know.  I’m  still  a  little  unclear  about  what  exactly  we’re 
doing.  Is  this  an  exercise  or  is  it  a  scene?” 

“It’s  a  scene  which  is  being  handled  improvisationally — that  is, 
impulse  to  impulse.” 

“I’m  supposed  to  work  off  his  behavior  and  not  the  text,  right?” 

“Both.  Look,  I’ll  do  it  for  you.  Your  speech  to  me  is,  ‘You’re 
weak.  You  promised  that  you’d  never  take  another  drink  again 
if  you  lived  to  be  a  hundred,  but  you’ve  broken  your  word.’  And 
my  answer  is,  ‘I’m  not  weak.’  Now,  where  does  the  impulse  for 
that  happen?  Right  at  the  beginning!  Don 't  pick  up  cues ,  pick  up 
impulses.  Say  your  text  to  me  again.” 

“  ‘You’re  weak.  You  said  you’d  never  take  a  drink  again  as  long 
as  you  lived  and  you  didn’t  even  keep  your  word.’  ” 

“  ‘I’m  not  weak.’  I  was  acting  all  through  that!  Did  you  see 
that?” 

“You’re  not  necessarily  asking  us  to  start  our  line  before  the 
partner  finishes  his  line?”  Bette  asks. 

“No!  I  said  wait  for  the  cue,  but  the  impulse,  the  emotion, 
comes  whenever  it’s  felt.  You’ll  get  used  to  it  once  you  have  a 
command  over  the  script.  I’m  saying  two  things  to  you:  learn  the 
lines;  pick  up  the  impulses.” 


“I  liked  it  very  much." 

r  Joseph  and  Beth  have  just  completed  their  scene. 

“Joseph,  you  know  your  wife’s  betraying  you,  right?  I  don’t 
care  what  you  do  or  how  you  do  it,  but  you,  Joseph,  get  into  a 
certain  condition  when  you  find  out  your  girl’s'  betraying  you.  I’d 
like  to  see  that  next  time. 

“Beth,  you’re  going  to  be  free  of  that  creep  of  a  husband  pretty 
soon.  Doesn’t  that  make  you  feel  good?  Let’s  see  what  happens 
when  Beth  feels  in  good  spirits.  Now,  one  of  these  days — I  hope 


it  will  be  before  we  quit  for  Christmas — I’ll  begin  to  show  you 
the  elements  of  that  agonizing  problem,  preparation,  which  is  the 
self-stimulation  of  your  emotion.  It’s  the  most  subtle  problem  in 
acting,  believe  me.  And  we’ll  get  to  it,  but  not  yet.  Next  time 
finish  the  scene  with  these  two  additions:  Joe  in  a  lousy  mood — 

I  don’t  care  what  you  do — and  Beth  in  a  wonderful  mood  I 
don’t  care  what  you  do.  I’m  anticipating  emotional  preparation. 

“  ‘There  goes  your  mother  after  her  darling  David,’  ”  Meisner 
says,  quoting  Sarah’s  line  from  a  scene  from  Sidney  Howard’s 
The  Silver  Cord,  which  she  and  Philip  have  just  completed.  “Now, 
that  line  is  spoken  while  you’re  looking  through  the  window  and 
seeing  his  mother  walking,  right?  But  you’re  never  going  to  see 
his  mother  walking.  If  you  look  out  the  window  onstage,  you  re 
going  to  see  scenery  stacked  up  against  the  wall.  You  re  going  to 
see  the  stage  manager  trying  to  make  the  ingenue.  You’re  going 
to  see  everything  but  what  you’re  supposed  to  see.  Suppose  I’m 
reading  from  my  script  in  rehearsal  while  we’re  still  sitting 
around  the  table,  and  I  read,  ‘If  it  doesn’t  stop  snowing,  1 11  never 
get  back  to  New  York  and  I’ll  lose  my  job!’  ”  His  reading  of  the 
line  is  quiet,  yet  the  sense  of  panic  is  palpable.  “So  how  you  feel 
about  what  you  see  is  already  in  you  when  you  re  sitting  there 
reading  the  script.  Don’t  try  to  see  snow,  because  if  you  look 
you’re  going  to  see  the  stage  manager  and  the  ingenue.” 

The  class  laughs. 

“Finally,  at  the  end  of  the  road,  they  bring  in  the  scenery,  and 
on  one  side  is  a  wall  with  a  window.  So  as  a  convention,  you  get 
up  and  walk  to  the  window  to  make  the  audience  believe  that 
you’re  looking  out.  It’s  for  the  audience,  not  for  you!  And  what 
it  means  to  you  is  something  emotional:  I  ll  lose  my  job!  You 
follow?  If  you  went  to  the  Actors  Studio  you’d  spend  six  months 
seeing  the  snow  before  you  could  say,  ‘Look  at  the  snow.  This 
takes  a  terrible  burden  away  from  the  actor,  who  thinks  he  s  got 
to  see  the  woods  and  the  snow.  ‘Give  me  my  gun!  I  see  a  rabbit! 
Give  me  my  gun!’  ”  Meisner  sounds  thrilled  at  the  possibility  of 
a  hunt.  “That  happens  when  you’re  still  sitting  there  reading. 


BEYOND  REPETITION  75 

Then  when  they  put  in  the  scenery  you  move  to  the  window. 
Isn’t  that  simple?  How  simple  it  is  to  solve  the  problem  of  seeing 
things  when  you  know  that  it’s  all  in  you  emotionally,  and  that 
walking  to  the  window  is  only  a  convention.” 


“Dave,  what  would  you  do  if  you  were  suddenly  given  a  hundred 
thousand  dollars?  By  the  way,  I  once  said  that  to  a  class — no  one 
older  than  twenty-two — and  a  girl  sitting  right  there  said,  ‘But 
I  have  a  hundred  thousand  dollars!’  ” 

The  class  laughs. 

“What  would  you  do,  Dave,  if  you  had  a  hundred  thousand 
dollars?” 

“Buy  myself  a  home.” 

“That’s  too  general  and  prosaic.  Besides,  what  kind  of  a  home 
can  you  get  for  a  hundred  thousand  dollars?” 

“Not  in  New  York  City.” 

“In  Uganda?  What  would  you  do?” 

Dave  pauses,  his  face  rapt  in  thought.  “That’s  what  I’d  do.  I’d — ” 

“That’s  all?”  Meisner  asks.  Dave  looks  straight  ahead  in  si¬ 
lence.  “It’s  interesting  that  you  can’t  or  won’t — the  chances  are 
you  won’t — answer  that  question.”  He  looks  at  Bette.  “What 
would  you  do  if  I  gave  you  a  hundred  thousand  dollars?” 

“I’d  thank  you  and  thank  you  and  thank  you.” 

“That’s  not  activity,  that’s  politeness.” 

Vince  raises  his  hand.  “The  first  thing  I’d  do  is  call  my  accoun¬ 
tant.” 

“What?”  Meisner  says  incredulously. 

“The  first  thing  I’d  do  is  call  my  accountant,”  Vince  re¬ 
peats,  “and  make  sure  that  I’d  covered  all  the  taxes  and  shelters, 
and  then  I’d  probably  buy  some  art  I  want,  some  Mir6  aqua¬ 
tints.” 

“What  are  you  saying?” 

“I’m  saying  I’d  make  sure  to  protect  myself  so  that  I  wouldn’t 
have  to  pay  taxes,  and  then  get  some  Mir6s  I  really  want  to  buy.” 

“You  know,”  Meisner  says,  “the  trouble  with  your  answer, 
Vince,  and  with  yours,  Dave,  is  that  they’re  prosaic  and  worldly 


76  V  . .  .:  • 

and  commonplace.  Any  garbage  collector  would  think  of  them. 
I  like  you  both,  so  I’m  not  recommending  you  to  the  Department 
of  Sanitation.” 

“What  are  you  saying?”  Rose  Marie  demands  with  great  seri¬ 
ousness.  “That  if  somebody’s  dreams  are  ordinary,  then  they’re 
not  talented?  If  they  say  something  like  that,  they’re  not  wor¬ 
thy?” 

“I’m  saying  that  wishful  thinking  is  a  product  of  the  imagina¬ 
tion.  On  the  one  hand,  if  someone  said,  ‘I’d  pay  my  rent  for  the 
next  five  years,’  I’d  say,  ‘Bullshit.  That’s  too  realistic,  it’s  too 
unimaginative,  it’s  too  practical.’  On  the  other  hand,  what  if  a 
girl  said,  ‘I’d  like  to  go  to  the  White  House  in  a  dress  that’s  made 
of  solid  emeralds.  Gorgeous!  Solid  emeralds!  On  some  kind  of 
cloth  which  can  only  be  made  by  one  nun  in  India!’  That’s  extrav- 
agant,  but  it’s  the  essence  of  wishful  thinking.” 

Meisner  pauses  to  adjust  the  microphone  on  his  glasses.  “I’m 
talking  about  imagination.  Wishful  thinking  is  based  on  imagina¬ 
tion.  Stimulating  imagination — do  you  see  that?  If  I  say,  ‘I’ll  give 
you  a  hundred  thousand  dollars.  What  will  you  do  with  it?,’  and 
you  say,  Til  buy  a  house,  furnish  it  and  pay  the  taxes  on  it  for 
the  next  twenty  years!,’  that’s  practical.  It’s  not  out  of  your  imagi¬ 
native  soul;  it’s  out  of  your  wish  to  be  secure.  But  the  dress  made 
of  emeralds  is  pure,  untouched  imagination.  That’s  what  wishful 
thinking  is.  Am  I  making  the  difference  clear?  One  is  the  product 
of  imagination  and  the  other  is  based  on  prosaic  reality.  I  want 
to  make  that  point  very  clear  because  it  is  a  prelude  to  prepara¬ 
tion.  That’s  all  I’m  going  to  say  now;  it’s  a  prelude  to  the  imagina¬ 
tive  use  of  yourself.  As  I  said — to  repeat — it’s  a  prelude,  a  remark 
which  is  a  prelude  to  preparation.” 

“Sandy?”  says  Bette.  “I  have  a  suggestion.” 

“Yeah?” 

“I  think  that  the  next  time  you  should  ask  us  what  we  would 
do  with  a  million.  A  hundred  thousand  doesn’t  go  as  far  as  it  used 
to.”  * 

“That’s  true,”  Meisner  says.  “I’ve  found  that  out.” 

The  class  laughs. 


BEYOND  REPETITION  77 

I! 

The  menu  is  the  usual:  tuna  on  a  seeded  roll  and  black  coffee. 

“Scott,”  Meisner  says,  “remind  me  this  afternoon  of  the  actress 
I  once  heard  of  who,  when  she  got  a  role,  wrote  it  out  as  if  it  were 
one  continuous  sentence,  so  that  the  other  fellow  always  came  in 
like  an  unpremeditated,  spontaneous  interruption.  That  would 
be  good  for  all  of  them.” 

Scott  Roberts  nods  and  makes  a  note  on  his  yellow  legal 
pad. 


6 


|Sg|  Preparation:  “In  the  Harem  of  My  Head” 


ben:  [enters].  Let’s  go. 
fill  libby:  Where  to? 

ispNp  ben:  Empire.  We’ll  see  Marlene  Dietrich. 

Pf.  GUS:  Marlene — she’s  the  intellect  and  artistic  type. 
iiliPi  r . 

g|ffi|  Marlene,  I  got  her  in  the  harem  of  my  head. , 

— Clifford  Odets,  Paradise  Lost 


December  1 


“Today  is  going  to  be  devoted  to  preparation,”  Meisner  says. 
“Preparation  is  that  device  which  permits  you  to  start  your  scene 
or  play  in  a  condition  of  emotional  aliveness.  The  purpose  of 
preparation  is  so  that  you  do  not  come  in  emotionally  empty.  I 
want  to  be  very  simple  about  this  whole  subject.  If  you  sign  the 
contract  in  the  Shubert  offices  for  a  wonderful  part  in  a  wonder¬ 
ful  play,  the  obvious  implication  is  that  you  are  bursting  with  joy 
when  you  write  your  name  on  the  document.  Even  if  you  live  in 
Riverdale,  forty-five  minutes  away  by  subway,  the  pleasure  and 
pride  that  was  instilled  in  you  in  the  Shubert  office  is  still  there 
in  some  form  by  the  time  you  get  home.  Ask  me  questions  if  I 
don’t  make  it  clear.” 


79 


PREPARATION:  “IN  THE  HAREM  OF  MY  HEAD" 

He  pauses,  but  the  class  understands  what  he  is  saying. 

“Now,  preparation  is  going  to  present  you  with  certain  prob¬ 
lems.  One  is  the  temptation  to  show  it.  ‘Look,  Ma,  how  happy  I 
am — or  miserable.’  ‘Look,  audience,  how  overjoyed  I  am.’  So  you 
project  your  state  of  being.  You  do  things  to  make  people  sense 
your  emotional  condition.  Another  thing,  which  cannot  be  re¬ 
peated  too  often,  is  that  preparation  lasts  only  for  the  first  mo¬ 
ment  of  the  scene,  and  then  you  never  know  what’s  going  to 
happen.  I’ll  illustrate  that.  Rose  Marie,  don’t  let  me  forget  to 
illustrate  that. 

“In  the  early  days  of  the  Stanislavsky  System,  Mr.  S.  was  look¬ 
ing  for  true  behavior,  and  if  what  he  wanted  was  great  pleasure,  he 
asked  where  you  look  for  the  reality  of  great  pleasure.  His  answer 
was  simple:  you  remember  a  time  when  you  were  under  the  influ¬ 
ence  of  great  pleasure.  That’s  called  ‘emotion  memory.’  I  don’t  use 
it,  and  neither  did  he  after  thirty  years  of  experimentation.  The 
reason?  If  you  are  twenty  and  work  in  a  delicatessen,  the  chances 
are  very  slim  that  you  can  remember  that  glorious  night  you  had 
with  Sophia  Loren.  The  chances  are  slight  that  you  know  the  full 
pleasure  of  that  kind  of  glorified  sex.  Am  I  making  myself  clear?” 

The  class  nods. 

“In  other  words,  what  I  am  saying  is  that  what  you’re  looking 
for  is  not  necessarily  confined  to  the  reality  of  your  life.  It  can 
be  in  your  imagination.  If  you  allow  it  freedom — with  no  inhibi¬ 
tions,  no  proprieties — to  imagine  what  would  happen  between 
you  and  Sophia  Loren,  your  imagination  is,  in  all  likelihood, 
deeper  and  more  persuasive  than  the  real  experience.  Is  that 
clear?  Can  anybody  tell  me  what  I’m  saying?” 

John  raises  his  hand.  “You’re  saying  that  our  imaginations  are 
every  bit  as  strong,  if  not  stronger,  than  the  experiences  we  can 
recall  from  our  past.” 

“Right.  Rose  Marie?” 

“So  if  I  needed  to  feel  that  some  great  burden  had  been  taken 
off  my  back,  could  I  use  something  like,  ‘I’ll  never  have  to  work 
for  the  next  ten  years — I  won  the  lottery’?  Is  it  better  to  use  the 
circumstances  from  my  real  life,  like  how  much  I  hate  serving 
bacon  cheeseburgers,  and  how  sudden  freedom  from  doing  that 
kind  of  work  would  make  me  cry  with  joy?” 


80 

“It’s,  better  to  use  what  moves  you,  what  affects  you.  ” 

“So  I  don’t  have  to  pretend  that  I’m  Cinderella — ” 

“No!” 

“Or  that  I  live  in  a  hut  and  have  always  wanted  to  have  a  pair 
of  glass  shoes — ” 

“No,  you  don’t  have  to,  but  if  living  in  a  hut  and  finally  getting 
a  pair  of  shoes  does  it  for  you,  use  it.  All  I’m  saying — don’t 
complicate  it— is  don’t  come  in  empty.  Get  your  inner  life  from 
what  given  circumstances  suggest.  This  has  to  do  with  the  self¬ 
stimulation  of  your  emotion.  The  reason  I  asked  you  about  wish¬ 
ful  thinking  was  because  I  want  you  to  find  in  yourself  that 
element  which  belongs  only  to  you  and  to  no  one  else,  which  is 
stimulating  for  you  and  for  no  one  else.  Now,  the  source  of  where 
you  find  that  inner  life  is  not  necessarily  related  to  the  needs  of 
the  scene.  In  the  last  century,  the  English  actor  William  Charles 
Macready,  before  playing  a  certain  scene  in  The  Merchant  of  Venice, 
used  to  try  to  shake  the  iron  ladder  backstage  that  was  embedded 
in  the  brick.  He’d  try  and  try,  and  would  get  furious  because  he 
couldn’t  budge  it.  Then  he  went  on  and  played  the  scene.  Am  I 
being  clear?” 

“You  say  that  your  preparation  is  not  necessarily  related  to  the 
scene,”  Ray  says.  “In  the  case  of  Macready,  could  it  be  that  he  got 
furious  at  the  ladder  and  then  went  on  to  play  a  love  scene?” 

“It  could  be  that  he  got  furious  at  the  ladder  and  then  went  on 
to  play  the  fact  that  his  girl  had  kept  him  waiting  in  front  of 
Radio  City  for  an  hour  and  a  half.  That’s  possible.  Look,  I’m 
presenting  you  with  the  premise,  ‘Don’t  come  in  empty.’  Yes?” 

“I  find  the  things  that  stimulate  me,”  Bette  says,  “are  physical 
things  more  than  thinking  about  serving  hamburgers  or  Cinder¬ 
ella  or  something  intellectual,  which  doesn’t  move  me.” 

“You’ve  got  to  find  the  things  that  stimulate  yott.  If  I  want  to 
come  in  feeling  romantically  sad  because  my  girl  left  me  for  an 
older  man — •” 

The  class  laughs. 

“I  might  be  able  to  get  it  from  singing  that  schmaltzy  theme 
from  Tchaikovsky’s  Sixth  Symphony.  Are  you  getting  the  gen¬ 
eral  idea?  The  dress  embroidered  with  emeralds  is  pure  imagina- 


81 


PREPARATION:  “IN  THE  HAREM  OF  MY  HEAD" 


tion.  You  don’t  even  know  what  there  is  about  emeralds  that 
titillates  you,  but  you  do  know  that  two  big  emeralds  on  your 
finger  make  you  feel  like  royalty!” 

“I  thought  about  that  all  week,”  Rose  Marie  says,  “and  maybe 
I  should  see  a  psychiatrist,  but  I  have  never  even  given  myself  the 
option  of  thinking  of  dressing  in  emeralds  like  that.  Maybe  I 
should  stop  thinking  of  mundane  things  and  start  to  dream 
more.” 

“It’s  not  true  that  you  only  think  about  mundane  things,” 
Meisner  says.  “I’ll  tell  you  what  I  mean  about  that.  First  of  all, 
Dr.  Freud — Ziggy,  his  friends  call  him — maintains  that  all  fan¬ 
tasy  comes  either  from  ambition  or  sex.  For  example,  if  I  gave 
you  a  million  dollars — I’ve  gotten  more  charitable  since  last  week 
—and  you  told  me  that  you’d  use  it  to  build  yourself  a  glorious 
house  in  Hollywood,  that  would  be  ambition.  And  for  sex?  I  m  re¬ 
minded  of  a  joke.  Two  guys  go  to  the  movies.  They  get  on  line,  and 
one  of  them  says,  ‘You  know,  Sophia  Loren  was  marvelous  in  bed 
the  night  I  had  her.’  The  other  guy  doesn’t  reply,  and  the  first 
guy  says,  ‘I  had  a  fine  time  with  Liz  Taylor,  too.  She  has  great 
elan.'  The  other  fellow  still  doesn’t  say  anything,  but  finally  he 
smiles  and  says,  ‘You  know  Greta  Garbo?  I’m  having  her 
now.’  ” 

The  class  laughs. 

“That’s  preparation!  Right  now!  ‘The  beast  with  two  backs.’  ” 

Again  more  laughter. 

“Did  I  tell  you  about  the  guy  on  a  bus  who  hated  David  Mer¬ 
rick?  Well,  this  guy— a  would-be  playwright  who  was  desperate 
to  get  away  from  his  father’s  zipper  factory— spent  the  day  sit¬ 
ting  in  David  Merrick’s  outer  office,  and  Merrick  wouldn’t  see 
him.  Going  home  on  the  bus,  he  sees  an  advertisement  with  an 
elegant  man  smoking  a  cigar  and,  though  the  guy  doesn  t  realize 
it,  the  man  looks  a  little  bit  like  Merrick.  Suddenly  his  mind 
begins  churning.  ‘That  fool!  Just  because  he  s  got  a  desk  sixty  feet 
long  filled  with  plays,  he  thinks  he’s  a  producer.  Well,  he’s  had 
more  flops  than  the  Shuberts  and  the  Nederlanders  put  together!’ 
Well,  he  continues  to  fume  about  the  incompetence  and  crass 
stupidity  of  David  Merrick  until  the  bus  comes  to  his  stop.  An 


82 


old  lady  has  her  feet  in  the  aisle,  but  he’s  not  looking  because  he’s 
so  furious,  so  he  trips  over  the  poor  old  lady’s  feet.  He  says,  ‘Go 
fuck  yourself!’  ” 

The  class  laughs. 

See,  the  accident  of  the  advertisement  led  to  free  association, 
which  led  in  turn  to  the  rage  that  the  poor  old  lady  bore  the  brunt 

That  s  an  example  of  how  free  association  can  induce  a  prepa¬ 
ration.  Macready  shook  a  ladder,  somebody  else  sings  a  song, 
somebody  else  wears  a  dress  made  of  emeralds,  somebody  else 
wins  the  lottery  and  has  ten  years  with  nothing  to  do  but  to 
become  the  best  actress  she  can  be.  But  these  approaches  can  be 
repeated  only  as  long  as  they’re  effective.  When  I  was  sixteen,  I 
was  mad  for  the  Tchaikovsky  symphonies,  but  if  I  hear  one  now, 
my  reaction  is,  ‘It’s  so  corny!’  In  other  words,  what  stimulates 
you  changes.” 

Meisner  pauses  to  let  the  class  absorb  his  point.' 

When  I  was  thirteen — excuse  my  using  these  personal  exam¬ 
ple5  I  always  talked  through  the  regular  Monday  morning  as¬ 
sembly  in  public  school.  I  was  a  very  nervous  kid.  I  even  talked 
while  they  were  playing  “The  Star-Spangled  Banner.”  Finally 
the  principal,  Julius  Bloom,  called  me  out  from  the  audience  and 
said,  ‘Go  to  my  office  and  wait  for  me,’  which  I  did.  Well,  I  had 
to  bring  my  mother.  I  had  to  bring  my  father.  My  punishment 
was  that  I  had  to  sit  in  the  corner  in  the  last  row  and  nobody  was 
allowed  to  talk  to  me.  This  was  during  the  First  World  War  and, 
since  I  was  unpatriotic,  I  must  be  a  German  sympathizer.  That 
went  on  and  on,  and  it’s  not  fun  to  be  ostracized  that  way.  Then 
they  had  a  big  contest:  write  an  essay  on  why  we  should  all  buy 
Liberty  Bonds.  I  won  first  prize.  What  could  they  do  with  me? 
Here  I  m  not  patriotic  and  I  write  the  prize-winning  composi¬ 
tion!  So  I  was  reinstated.” 

Meisner  lights  a  cigarette. 

The  point  Im  making  is  that  when  I  think  back  on  that 
experience,  I  think  it’s  both  amusing  and  stupid,  but  that’s  not 
what  I’m  supposed  to  be  feeling  when  somebody  says,  ‘Remem¬ 
ber  how  hysterical  you  were  when  they  threw  you  out  of  school?’ 
Over  time  the  meaning  of  the  past  changes.  That’s  one  of  the 
reasons  I  don’t  like  ‘emotion  memory,’  and  that’s  one  of  the 


PREPARATION:  “IN  THE  HAREM  OF  MY  HEAD"  83 

reasons  Stanislavsky  gave  it  up.”  For  a  moment,  Meisner  seems 
lost  in  thought. 

Rose  Marie  holds  up  her  hand. 

“Sandy,  you  asked  me  to  remind  you  to  illustrate  something.” 

“Oh,  yes.  Do  you  want  to  do  it?”  She  stands  up.  “Then  pick 
someone  to  be  your  partner,  your  boyfriend.”  She  chooses  John. 
“Look,  I’m  going  to  tell  her  what  the  precircumstances  are — 
what  you,  Rose  Marie,  bring  onstage  with  you.  The  two  of  you 
live  here  together.  Scott  Roberts?”  he  says  to  his  assistant,  who 
sits  next  to  the  amplifier  that  supplies  his  voice.  “Turn  that  off 
so  I  can  whisper.” 

He  whispers  to  Rose  Marie  for  a  few  moments  and  then  she 
leaves  the  room,  closing  the  door  behind  her. 

“Now,  John,  I  want  you  to  lie  on  that  bed.”  When  projected, 
Meisner’s  unamplified  voice  can  easily  be  heard.  “You’ve  just  had 
a  fatal  heart  attack,  and  now,  and  for  the  rest  of  this  scene,  you’re 
dead.  Can  you  manage  that?” 

“Sure,”  John  says,  and  he  sprawls  on  the  bed.  Minutes  pass 
before  Rose  Marie,  looking  radiantly  happy,  bursts  into  the 
room.  In  a  moment  she  sees  John’s  lifeless  body  and  lets  out  a  cry 
of  surprise.  She  goes  to  him,  takes  his  hand,  and  with  her  other 
hand  pats  him  on  the  cheek.  She  is  panic-stricken,  and  after 
another  minute  turns  to  Meisner  and  says,  “This  is  where  I 
would  call  a  doctor.” 

“Okay,”  Meisner  says.  “Now  this  illustrates  my  point:  prepa¬ 
ration  lasts  only  for  the  first  moment.  Do  you  see  my  point?  I’ll 
tell  you  something,  Rose  Marie.  No  criticism.  It’s  a  comment. 
Your  preparation  w'as  too  thin.  Suppose  you  d  decided  to  come 
up  to  the  third  floor  singing  at  the  top  of  your  voice?  I  told  her 
that  she’d  just  signed  a  tremendous  Hollywood  contract  and  that 
her  boyfriend  was  included  in  it.  They  were  going  to  California. 
That’s  why  she  came  in,  and  that’s  why  I  said,  ‘Your  preparation 
was  too  thin.’  And  I  told  him  what  I  told  him.  He’s  dead;  he  had 
a  heart  attack.  Very  extreme,  but  that’s  the  point.  Any  ques¬ 
tions?” 

“You  said  my  preparation  was  too  thin,”  Rose  Marie  says.  “If 
I  was  home  I  probably  would  have  been  screaming  with  joy.  A 
few  weeks  ago  I  got  a  phone  calL — ” 


“Then  that's  what  you  should  have  done!” 

“I  was  afraid  I’d  be  ‘showing’  what  I  felt.” 

“No!  You  wouldn’t  be  showing  it.  Do  you  know  what  ‘show¬ 
ing  it’  means?  Let’s  say  an  idiot  director  tells  me  that  one  of  my 
precircumstances  comes  from  the  fact  that  I  saw  a  cute  little  dog 
run  over,  and  I  go  to  a  dark  corner  to  prepare.  So  I  prepare  and 
I  prepare  and  I  prepare,  and  nothing  happens,  perhaps  because 
I  don’t  like  dogs.-  Then  my  cue  comes  up  so  I  come  onstage  and 
say,  “Agh,  agh,  agh!”  You  follow?  I’ve  indicated  the  preparation. 
I’ve  indicated  the  emotion  I  don’t  have.  That’s  no  good.” 

Meisner  pauses  to  put  out  his  cigarette. 

“Just  one  more  thought  and  then  I’ll  shut  up  for  a  minute. 
Some  years  ago  I  owned  a  car.  In  winter  when  I  got  into  my  car, 
what’s  the  first  thing  I  did  when  I  started  the  car?  I  pulled  out 
the  choke  to  give  the  cold  motor  some  extra  gas.  It’s  a  warming- 
up  process,  right?  Well,  for  an  actor,  preparation  is  a  warming-up 
process.” 

He  looks  around  the  classroom.  “Let’s  take  a  break.” 

“The  purpose  of  preparation  is  simple:  it  has  to  do  with  self¬ 
stimulation.  Rose  Marie,  you  said  that  the  idea  of  winning  the 
lottery  was  stimulating  to  you  because  it  meant  you  wouldn’t 
have  to  serve  cheeseburgers  and  could  devote  yourself  to  your 
acting.  You  said  that  this  made  you  feel  so  good  that  the  tears 
came  to  your  eyes,  remember?  So  before  you  began  to  think  about 
what  you  would  do  with  the  money,  you  were  one  kind  of  person. 
Then,  when  the  idea  of  the  prize  money  began  to  play  on  you, 
you  were  not  the  same  person.  You  were  Rose  Marie  in  a  full 
state  of  happiness,  right?” 

Rose  Marie  nods. 

“So  preparation  is  a  kind  of  daydreaming.  It  is  daydreaming. 
It’s  daydreaming  which  causes  a  transformation  in  your  inner 
life,  so  that  you  are  not  what  you  actually  were  five  minutes  ago, 
because  your  fantasy  is  working  on  you.  But  the  character  of  our 
daydream  is  taken  from  the  play.  Let’s  take  Joseph  Morgan  as  an 
example.  What  is  the  precircumstance  of  his  scene  with  Beth?  He 
knows  that  his  wife  is  being  unfaithful  to  him.  Freud  says  that 


85 


PREPARATION:  "IN  THE  HAREM  OF  MY  HEAD" 

fantasies  come  from  either  sex  or  ambition.  He  also  says  that  as 
we  get  older  we  become  ashamed  of  having  fantasies,,  that  they 
don’t  belong  with  adulthood,  that  they’re  for  children.” 

Meisner  looks  at  Joseph.  “Suppose — and  don’t  follow  this,  Joe 
Morgan;  I’m  simply  using  your  scene  because  it’s  relatively  easy. 
Let’s  assume  that  you  decide  that  knowing  your  wife  is  unfaith¬ 
ful  to  you  is  an  abject  humiliation.  Therefore  you  have  a  certain 
amount  of  work  to  do  on  your  innards  in  order  to  propel  Joe 
Morgan  into  an  acute  condition  of  self-humiliation.  Now,  where 
does  he  get  that?  Suppose  he  thinks  of  an  incident  where  a  direc¬ 
tor,  after  three  days  of  working  with  him,  stops  the  rehearsal. 
This  might  have  happened  in  his  real  life  or,  more  importantly, 
he  could  invent  it.  He  has  a  choice!  The  director  says  in  front  of 
the  entire  company,  ‘Morgan,  you’re  fired.  You  have  about  as 
much  talent  as  a  dead  chicken!’  Do  you  see?  You  can  build  that 
up  any  way  you  personally  like.  Then  the  director,  who  is  a  real 
bastard,  says  to  you,  ‘I  know  a  girl  who  knows  you  and  she  told 
me  that  you’re  sexually  inept,  and  the  description  she  gave  to  me 
of  your  trying  to  be  Rudolph  Valentino  was  positively  hilarious!’ 
Every  word  of  that  fantasy  cuts  like  a  knife,  so  that  you’d  like  to 
crawl  under  the  table  and  disappear.  That’s  how  ashamed  you’ve 
become!” 

Joseph  shifts  uneasily  in  his  chair. 

“Can  you  see  the  process  here?  Let’s  continue  with  our  imagi¬ 
nation.  Suppose  that  this  preparation  induces  in  Joe  a  need  to  go 
into  a  corner  and  try  to  disappear.  Then  in  comes  the  wife,  and 
the  scene  is  between  the  wife  and  the  worm!  Now,  that  worm, 
that  pathetic  man,  ashamed,  humiliated — call  it  what  you  like — 
has  been  induced  by  imagination!  You’re  prepared.  You’re  ready. 
Then  the  scene  begins.  Am  I  conveying  a  logical  process  to  you?” 

The  class  nods. 

“The  fantasy  of  the  daydream  is  the  most  personal,  most  secret 
of  the  acting  values.  What  it  means  in  ordinary  language  is  that 
we  use  our  imagination  in  order  to  fulfill  in  ourselves  what  we 
have  more  or  less  determined  is  our  emotional  condition  before 
we  begin  the  scene.  I’ve  quoted  Freud.  I’ve  said  that  preparation 
is  a  product  of  your  ambitious  or  sexual  imagination.  The  guy  on 
the  bus  who’s  imagining  how  wretchedly  he’ll  treat  David  Mer- 


rick  when  he  begs  for  the  right  to  produce  his  next- play  is  using 
his  ambitious  imagination.  Feeling  that  you  want  to  die  of  shame 
because  of  your  sexual  incapacities  is  obviously  sexual.  But  you 
may  get  all  this  from  a  piece  of  music.  It  can  come  from  any¬ 
where.  It  is  self-inducement  coming  from  the  imagination,  which 
is  the  product  of  inventiveness.” 

Meisner  pauses.  “Did  I  tell  you  about  Charlie  Laughton  in  a 
picture  from  years  ago  called  If  I  Had  a  Million?  In  it  he  played 
a  bookkeeper — berated,  persecuted,  miserable.  One  day  he  inher¬ 
its  a  million  dollars.  In  those  days,  that  meant  something.  Sud¬ 
denly  he  has  a  scene  with  the  awful  boss  who’s  mistreated  him 
so  badly.  He  has  to  enter  and  say,  ‘I’m  finished  here.  Take  your 
job!’  Laughton’s  interpretation  was  that  he  was  walking  on  the 
top  of  the  world.  He  was  triumphant!  So  before  he  knocked  on 
the  door  and  entered  the  boss’s  office,  he  had  to  have  a  sense  of 
triumph.  If  he  were  Vince,  he  might  get  that  feeling  of  being  on 
top  of  the  world  from  his  experience  with  girls.  That  usually 
gives  you  a  feeling  of  being  unconquerable.  But  suppose  Laugh¬ 
ton  got  that  feeling  from  boys?  He’s  not  going  to  reveal  his 
preparation,  but  he’s  going  to  have  it!  And  if  anybody  says  to 
him,  ‘Where  did  you  get  that  feeling  of  being  a  conqueror  when 
you  knocked  at  the  door?,’  his  only  answer  is,  ‘None  of  your 
business.’  That’s  how  private  and  personal  preparation  is.  Sup¬ 
pose  there  were  an  actor — now  I’m  being  ridiculous,  or  maybe 
not  so  ridiculous — who  comes  from  South  Dakota,  and  the  near¬ 
est  farmhouse  is  a  hundred  and  seventy-five  miles  away,  but 
between  those  two  houses  are  thousands  of  available  sheep?” 

“Poor  sheep,”  Anna  says. 

“Not  to  the  actor,”  Meisner  says.  “I’m  talking  about  the  per¬ 
sonal,  secret,  intimate  knowledge  of  preparation.  So  if  somebody 
says  to  you,  ‘Where  do  you  get  that  marvelous  emotion  you  bring 
on  in  the  third  act?’  The  answer  is  simple:  ‘Talent.’” 

The  class  laughs. 

“I’ll  tell  you  something  else  about  preparation.  Be  prepared 
to  let  it  go  astray;  be  prepared  to  make  mistakes.’ There’s  more 
I  could  tell  you,  but  I  think  I’ve  said  enough  for  today.  As  I 
talk  about  it,  I  tend  to  make  it  seem  dramatically  significant, 


•  PREPARATION:  "IN  THE  HAREM  OF  MY  HEAD"  87 

but  it  needn’t  be.  Sometimes  you  don’t  need  any  preparation.” 

Again  Meisner  pauses.  “I’m  open  to  a  few  legitimate  ques¬ 
tions.”'  : 

John  raises  his  hand.  “When  we’re  working  on  the  stage,”  he 
asks,  “is  the  idea  to  make  our  preparation  as  full  as  possible 
because  we’re  in  a  theater,  as  opposed  to  being  in  a  film,  where 
acting  is  much  more  contained?” 

“I’ll  tell  you  this:  you  cannot  escape  the  impact  of  emotion, 
whether  it’s  in  a  big  theater  or  a  tiny  one.  If  you  have  it,  it  inflates 
you — correction,  ‘inflates’  is  not  a  good  word.  If  you  have  it,  it 
infects  you  and  the  audience.  If  you  don’t  have  it — like  Helen 
Hayes — don’t  bother;  just  say  the  lines  as  truthfully  as  you  are 
capable  of  doing.  You  can’t  fake  emotion.  It  immediately  exposes 
the  fact  that  you  ain’t  got  it. 

“Maureen  Stapleton  has  it  all  the  time.  Kim  Stanley  sometimes 
has  too  much.  Geraldine  Page  is  lovely.  There  are  many  good 
actors.  If  you’re  an  actor  and  are  working  off  your  partner  the 
way  you’ve  been  doing  here,  something’s  going  to  happen.” 

Bruce  holds  up  his  hand.  “When  you  told  Joseph  a  couple  of 
classes  ago  just  to  go  out  and  think  about  his  wife’s  unfaithfulness 
— that  was  a  form  of  preparation,  wasn’t  it?” 

“All  I  meant  is  that  actors  are  responsive,  just  as  butchers  are, 
to  the  idea  of  a  faithless  woman.  What  I  said  was,  ‘You’re  no 
child.  If  you  think  about  your  girl  being  unfaithful  to  you  some¬ 
thing  emotional  happens  to  you.’  I  depended  entirely  on  his 
normal  reaction  to  that.  I  did  not  say,  ‘Prepare.’  Today  I  said, 
‘Prepare,’  didn’t  I?  Today,  for  the  first  time,  I  said,  ‘Prepare.’  It’s 
simple.  Don’t  come  in  empty.  What  do  you  bring  with  you  be¬ 
cause  of  where  you’ve  just  been  and  why?  That’s  all  I  said  to  you. 
Did  I  say  more?  I  don’t  think  so.  I  will.  I  told  you  about  Duse’s 
blush.  Who’s  going  to  explain  that?” 

“A  good  preparation?”  Vincent  suggests. 

“No.  It  came  from  living  truthfully  under  imaginary  circum¬ 
stances.  Preparation  could  never  have  induced  that.  It  came  from 
her  genius,  her  completeness  in  living  truthfully  under  imagi¬ 
nary  circumstances.” 


88 

December  5 

“Next  class  I’m  going  to  see  all  of  your  scenes  with  a  preparation. 
Be  prepared!”  ■  .-.i 

“Scenes  or  exercises?”  Ray  asks- 

“You  each  have  a  scene,  don’t  you?”  . 

“Are  we  supposed  to  rehearse  it  at  home  with  a  preparation?” 
Anna  asks.  “I  mean  not  save  it  until  Monday?” 

“Save  it?  No,  do  it.  Change  it  if  necessary.” 

“Do  you  want  the_independent  activities  to  be  the  same?”  Bette 
asks.  “Like  Anna  was  putting  on  her  makeup  and  I  was  reading 
a  magazine?” 

“But  each  one  adds  a  preparation.” 

“On  top  of  it?”  Bette  asks. 

“No,  underneath  it.” 

“Underneath  it,”  Bette  repeats  and  the  class  laughs. 

“The  person  who  comes  in  does  the  preparation,”  says  Rose 
Marie.  “What  about  the  person  who’s  sitting  there?” 

“He  has  the  preparation  that  comes  from  the  indepen¬ 
dent  activity.  One  comes  from'  what  you’re  doing,  and  the  other 
comes  entirely  from  the  way  you  bring  the  emotion  to  the  sur¬ 
face.” 

“So  in  Joseph’s  case,  where  he’s  just  sitting  there  stewing, 
waiting  for  his  wife  to  show  up — ” 

“There’s  preparation  in  that  case.  When  you  prepare,  go  into 
a  dark  corner  if  you  can  find  one.  What  were  we  talking  about 
today?” 

“We  Were  talking,  about  what  you  do  imaginatively  inside 
yourself  to  put  you  in  an  emotional  state  that  carries  you  through 
the  first  moment  of  the  scene,”  Bruce  says. 

John  raises  his  hand.  “Sandy,  you  said  it  would  be  best  to  find 
a  dark  corner  or  something — ” 

“To  be  alone.  It  helps.  Look,  the  fact  that  you’re  sitting  here 
in  relative  quiet  does  not  mean  that  what  I  said  isn’t  penetrating 
into  you,  because  it  is.  Now,  tell  me  your  interpretation  of  what 
I  said.”  - 

“What  I  got  out  of  it,”  Ray  says,  “is  that  before  the  scene 
begins,  through  your  imagination — mavbe  hv-  daydreaming,  or 


PREPARATION:  “IN  THE  HAREM  OF  MY  HEAD" 


89 


however  you  go  about  it — you  get  yourself  ticking  emotionally, 
so  that  when  you  enter  the  scene  you  have  an  emotional  fullness 
which  lasts  as  long  as  the  first  moment.  It  may  or  may  not  come 
up  again  in  the  course  of  the  scene,  but  it  brings  you  on  alive  and 
full.  And  you  can’t  necessarily  relate  it  to  the  scene  because  it  has 
to  be  something  deeply  personal  to  you,  that  only  you  know 
about,  that  only  stimulates  you.” 

“That’s  right,”  Meisner  says. 

“Sandy?”  John  asks.  “Is  there  a  technique  of  talking  out  loud 
that  somehow  could  pull  preparation  out  of  us  rather  than  think¬ 
ing  about  it?”  1  , 

“I’ll  tell  you  something  in  answer  to  your  question.  1  here  s 
nothing  as  personal  as  what  makes  an  actor  act,  and  of  all  the 
personal,  secret  things,  preparation  is  the  most.  That’s  why  I  m 

not  saying  anything  more  today.” 

Ray  raises  his  hand.  “In  other  words,  you’re  saying  you  can  t 
tell  us  how  to  do  it— just  that  we  have  to  do  it.  I  don’t  mean  that 
to  sound  glib.  You’re  saying  it’s  a  totally  personal  thing,  and 
there’s  no  technique  for  it.  Preparation  is  simply  something  that 
must  take  place,  and  we  just  have  to  learn  to  do  it. 

“It  is  something  that  should  take  place,”  Meisner  says,  “and 
I’m  pointing  out  as  far  as  is  possible  a  conscious  way  of  starting 
the  process.  You  follow?” 

December  8 

Lila  and  Dave  are  about  to  perform  a  scene  from  William  Inge  s 

The  Dark  at  the  Top  of  the  Stairs. 

“What  are  the  circumstances  preceding  the  actual  scene,  Lda?  ’ 

Meisner  asks. 

“Reenie  comes  in.  I  tell  her  that  I  think  it  would  be  good  tor 
her  to  go  to  the  party,  and  she  gets  upset  and  goes  out  to  practice 
the  piano.” 

“That’s  the  story  of  the  play,  right?  I  say  that  what  precedes 
that  scene  is  that  you’re  altering  a  dress  which  is  going  to  make 
your  daughter  the  belle  of  the  ball.  How  do  you  feel  about  that?” 
“Oh,  I’m  elated.  It’s  a  beautiful  dress.” 


So  Lila  King  is  in  a  condition  of  elation,  right?  Now,  I  don’t 
know  how  you’re  going  to  induce  elation.  You  may  get  it  from 
remembering  a  good  notice  you  had  some  years  ago.  You  may  get 
it  from  the  fact  that  tomorrow  they’re  going  to  take  down  Ethel 
Barrymore  s  name  and  put  up  Lila  King’s.  I  don’t  know  where 
your  imagination  is  going  to  lead  you,  but  when  you’re  ready,  sit 
down  with  that  dress  and  do  anything  you  want — sing  to  your¬ 
self,  maybe — while  you’re  altering  it.  Then  we’ll  have  not  Lila 
King,  the  actress,  but  Lila  King,  the  elated  woman.  Who’s  to  stop 
you  except  the  dumb  director — from  waltzing  around  the  room 
with  the  dress?  Who’s  going  to  stop  you?  Not  me!” 

Meisner  turns  to  Dave,  “Now  we  have  the  husband.  ‘$19.95.’ 
What  does  that  mean?” 

Murder,  Dave  says.  “She’s  gone  out  behind  my  back  and 
spent  this  huge  amount  of  money.” 

“Go  into  the  fact  that  you  can’t  afford  it.” 

“We  barely  have  enough  money  to  pay  the  rent  and  the  electric 
bill.  We  can  hardly  make  ends  meet,  let  alone  have  any  money 
for  extras  like  party  dresses.” 

That  s  the  foundation  for  building  in  you  an  emotional  atti¬ 
tude  which  has  to  do  with  financial  destruction.  We  won’t  go  too 
far  into  this  scene,  but  set  yourself  up  in  here,  then  go  outside. 
When  you’re  ready,  come  inside  and  act.  Right?  Has  what  I’ve 
said  to  you  been  clear?” 

They  both  nod. 

You  should  go  out  to  different  corners.  Dave,  make  sure  that 
she’s  in  here  before  you  enter.” 

Lila  and  Dave  leave- the  room,  closing  the  door. 

It  s  really  very  simple,  isn’t  it?”  Meisner  says.  “It  just  takes  a 
few  years  to  learn.” 

After  a  few  minutes  Lila  enters,  takes  the  dress  from  the  table 
and,  holding  it  before  her,  admires  her  reflection  in  the  full- 
length  mirror  against  the  wall.  She  begins  to  hum  contentedly, 
then  sits  at  the  table  to  thread  a  needle.  Dave  enters  suddenly  and 
the  scene  begins.  Three  or  four  minutes  pass  before  Meisner  i 
stops  them.  I 

Let  s  talk  about  this.  It’s  all  right,  nothing  wrong  with  it,  but 
it  s  a  question  of  quantity,  not  quality.  What  does  that  mean? 


91 


PREPARATION:  "IN  THE  HAREM  OF  MY  HEAD" 


Quantity  instead  of  quality.  The  quality  of  your  behavior  is  good. 
I’m  talking  only  about  the  beginning.  It’s  not  full  enough.  I’ll 
show  you  what  I  mean.  Dave,  when  you  came  in  and  saw  her 
dancing  around  with  the  dress,  had  it  made  you  want  to  tear 
yourself  to  pieces,  because  here’s  the  proof  that  she’s  ruining  you, 
I  would  have  loved  it.  You  follow?  And  Lila,  if  before  he  came 
in  we  saw  you  dancing  like  a  fifteen-year-old  girl,  like  your 
daughter,  I  would  have  loved  that.  Dave,  unless  I’m  quite  wrong 
— which  is  possible — to  be  disgusted,  revolted  and  furious  at 
somebody’s  unreasonable  behavior  should  not  be  difficult  for 
you.  Right  or  wrong?” 

“You’re  right,”  Dave  says. 

“That’s  what  I  was  looking  for,  you  follow?  And  Lila,  to  be  like 
a  fifteen-year-old  girl  dancing  around  with  the  dress  as  if  you 
were  the  belle  of  the  ball  would,  I  think,  come  easily  to  you.”  She 
nods  in  agreement.  “That’s  what  I  was  looking  for.  But  we’re  at 
the  beginning,  and  to  begin  with  a  full  emotional  inner  life  is 
difficult  at  best.  I  just  want  to  show  you  the  possibilities  that  are 
open  to  you.  Both  of  you  have  always  had  reality  in  this  scene. 
It  never  achieved  the  fullness  it  might  have,  but  you  always  had 
emotions  of  the  right  quality.  I’m  talking  about  fullness  at  the 
beginning,  that’s  all.  What  I’m  trying  to  establish  today  are  the 
qualities  of  preparations  that  are  fuller  than  simply  knowing  that 
you,  Dave,  are  angry  at  her  because  she’s  extravagant,  or  that 
you,  Lila,  are  elated.  That’s  what  I’m  talking  about.” 

December  12 

Ray  and  Rachael,  a  thin  and  pretty  blond  young  woman  who,  like 
Anna,  works  as  a  model,  are  about  to  begin  their  scene. 

“Why  do  you  come  in?”  Meisner  asks  Rachael. 

“I’m  coming  in  to  tell  him — ” 

“You  don’t  have  to  worry  about  that.  The  scene  will  take  care 
of  that.  Where  are  you  coming  from?” 

“From  my  new  lover’s  place.” 

“How  new?”  . 

“Seven  months.” 


92  '  —  is'.-;--;.:  ■ 

“Almost  a  record,”  Meisner  says,  and  the  class  laughs.  “Okay, 
you’re  coming  from  your  lover  of  seven  months.  What  can  you 
invent,  what  can  your  imagination  invent,  that  happened  tonight 
to  put  you  on  cloud  seven?  You’ve  got  something?” 

Rachael  nods.  ••  • 

“Personal  to  you?  Right?”  ■ 

She  blushes  and  continues  to  nod. 

“Now,  Ray;  let’s  take  what  I  said  to  Joseph  before.  You’re 
deeply  humiliated,  like  a  child  who  has  been  publicly  embar¬ 
rassed  and  scorned  by  all  the  other  children,  right?  When  you’re 
both  ready,  come  in.” 

When  they  leave  the  room,  Meisner  says,  “There’s  been  no 
problem  in  their  being  able  to  handle  their  script  in  an  alive  way, 
but  now  we’re  talking  about  a  different  level.  What’s  the  level?” 

“The  level  of  preparation,”  Vince  says. 

“Preparation  brings  you  to  it,”  Meisner  says. 

“The  personal  level,”  Rose  Marie  says. 

“Emotional  honesty,”  John  adds. 

“Fullness!”  Meisner  exclaims.  “Where  are  we  moving?” 

“To  a  fuller  emotional  plan'e,”  Beth  says. 

After  a  few  minutes  the  door  opens,  Ray  enters  and  sits  on  the 
bed.  Rachael  comes  in,  the  scene  begins  and  they  play  it  through 
to  the  end. 

“All  right,”  Meisner  says,  “that  helped.  The  behavior  was 
more  meaningful  than  last  time.  Now,  I  want  to  try  something. 
Rachael,  I  want  you  to  go  outside,  and  when  you  feel  as  if  finally 
all  your  dreams  are  coming  true,  dance  in!  I  don’t  care  what  you 
do.  Go  outside  and  prepare  for  that.” 

“Okay,”  Rachael  says.  “With  or  without  the  text?” 

“With  the  text,”  Meisner  says.  “But  Rachael,  I  want  to  see  you 
at  your  most  ecstatic.  I  don’t  care  if  you  get  it  from  buckwheat 
cakes!  And  Ray,  I  want  you  to  sit  on  that  bed  with  your  back  to 
the  door  and  cry  and  keep  on  crying  until  your  heart  breaks.  I 
don’t  care  if  you  get  it  from  the  fact  that  your  dog  died.  If  you 
want  to  be  private,  go  outside  and  then  come  back  in.” 

Both  leave  in  order  to  prepare.  In  a  few  minutes,  they  return 
and  perform  the  scene  again. 


93 


PREPARATION:  "IN  THE  HAREM  OF  MY  HEAD" 

.  t 

“This  didn’t  change  as  much  with  you,  Ray,  as  it  did  with  you” 
— Re  looks  at  Rachael — “though  it  was  rather  slight.  Look,  Ray, 
are  you  sensitive  to  tears?” 

:  “Do  you  mean,  am  I  sensitive  to  somebody  else  crying?” 
“Why  didn’t  you  cry?” 

“I  don’t  know.  ...” 

■“Were  you  self-conscious?” 

“Somewhat.  I  think  I  was  trying  too  hard.  I  think  I  felt  I 
needed  to  succeed,  and  that  was  what  was  in  my  mind.” 

“You  don’t  need  to  succeed;  you  need  to  learn.  Right?” 

Ray  nods  in  agreement. 

“I  said,  ‘Cry.’  That’s  a  result.  I  don’t  care  if  it’s  because  the 
waiter  brought  you  fried  eggs  instead  of  scrambled.  I  wanted  to 
see  you  break  down,  that’s  all.  And  Rachael,  I  wanted  to  see  you 
come  in  like  Carmen.  That’s  what  I  was  looking  for.” 

“A  dramatic  change  in  the  way  the  scene  was  going,”  Ray  says. 
“Something  entirely  different,”  Meisner  says.  “Work  on  it. 
We’ll  see  what  you  do  with  it  next  time.” 


December  15 

“Let’s  have  Mister  Roberts,  ”  Meisner  says,  and  John  and  Ralph 
come  forward  and  sit  on  two  gray  metal  folding  chairs  in  the 
middle  of  the  classroom.  “John,  we  know  from  the  play  that 
Ralph’s  character  is  a  pain  in  the  ass,  right?  We  know  that  you 
would  do  anything  to  squash  him,  right,  and  finally  you’ve  got 
something  on  him.  What  is  it?” 

“I  have  a  letter,”  John  says,  “that  proves  to  me  that  he  fucked 
up.” 

:  “  ‘No  leave  for  the  men.  ’  How  do  you  feel  about  that?” 

“How  do  I  feel?  Ecstatic!” 

“So  sit  behind  your  desk  and  enjoy  your  power,”  Meisner  says. 
“This  is  a  scene  about  a  cruel  bastard  whose  greatest  pleasure  is 
to  watch  somebody  electrocuted,  and  who’s  getting  his  wish.” 

John  moves  his  chair  behind  the  long  table  and  begins  to  ar¬ 
range  into  a  neat  pile  some  papers  he  has  brought  with  him. 


94 


“Now,  Ralph.  Did  I  ever  tell  you  about  the  ‘Magic  If?  This 
scene  is  ‘as  if  you’ve  just  come  from  the  funeral  of  your  three- 
year-old  brother.  In  other  words,  a  tragedy  is  occurring.  Never 
mind  that  this  scene  is  about  the  navy.  Emotionally,  a  tragedy  is 
occurring,  you  follow?” 

Ralph  nods. 

“Go  out  and  prepare.  Johnny,  you  just  sit  there  and  tickle 
yourself  with  pleasure.  That’s  all.  But  go  outside  if  you  want  to.” 

John  starts  to  leave,  and  Meisner  begins  to  speak  again. 
“Haven’t  you  all  had  marvelous  dreams  in  which  you  killed 
somebody?  Dreams  where  you’ve  taken  revenge  and  killed  some¬ 
body  you  hate?” 

John  says,  “No.” 

“Well,  you’ll  have  to  find  a  substitution  for  it.” 

John  nods  and  leaves  the  room. 

Meisner  looks  at  Rose  Marie. 

“Suppose  your  best  friend  once  said,  ‘Rose  Marie,  give  up 
acting.  You  haven’t  got  it.’  Now,  you’ve  just  opened  in  a  play  in 
which  you  got  all  the  notices  and  she  got  fired.  Isn’t  that  a  won¬ 
derful  feeling?”  - 

Rose  Marie  grins. 

“Are  you  beginning  to  see  how  this  works?”  Meisner  asks, 
looking  around  the  class.  “Yes?  But  not  unanimously.  You 
wouldn’t  give  me  that  satisfaction,  would  you?” 

In  a  few  minutes,  John  returns  to  his  table  and  begins  to  read 
with  pleasure  a  typed  letter  on  top  of  his  stack  of  papers.  Ralph 
knocks  on  the  door  and  John  tells  him  to  enter  and  take  a  chair. 
Ralph  sits  before  John’s  desk  like  a  small  boy  brought  up  before 
the  principal.  His  preparation  is  very  full,  and  as  the  scene  pro¬ 
gresses,  he  becomes  increasingly  desperate  before  the  obdurate 
cruelty  of  his  superior.  With  tears  in  his  eyes,  he  pleads  for  the 
order  canceling  the  leave  of  his  men  to  be  rescinded.  At  the  end, 
when,  through  a  twist  of  the  plot,  the  captain  is  forced  to  rescind 
the  order,  Ralph  heaves  a  sigh  of  relief  and  cries  openly  with  joy. 

'That  was  good,”  Meisner  says.  “You  see  what  preparation 
does  for  you?  Ralph,  your  emotion  was  lovely.” 

“Thank  you,”  Ralph  says.  He  is  clearly  pleased  and  smiles  even 
as  he  blows  his  nose  and  wipes  his  eyes  with  his  handkerchief. 


95 


H  PREPARATION:  "IN  THE  HAREM  OF  MY  HEAD" 

“How’s  that  for  a  Christmas  present?”  Meisner  asks. 

Ralph  nods  and  the  class  laughs. 

II 

Meisner  stands  on  the  corner  of  Fifty-fourth  Street  and  First 
Avenue  looking  for  a  cab  to  take  him  to  his  apartment. 

“Dave  concerns  me,”  he  says.  “There’s  a  level  of  emotional 
reserve  in  his  work  that  isn’t  productive  in  an  actor.  It’s  as  though 
he  searches  for  reasons  for  not  becoming  involved,  for  not  acting 
fully.’  Restraint  is  a  virtue,  but  reticence  in  an  actor  isn’t.  This 
is  a  problem  he’s  going  to  have  to  grapple  with.  Of  course  I  love 
Sturm  und  Drang.  If  I  go  to  a  restaurant  and  there’s  no  salt  on  the 
table,  they  have  to  carry  me  to  my  bed.  I  wish  a  bit  of  that  could 
rub  off  onto  Dave.” 

A  fine  mist  begins  to  fall,  and  there  are  no  cabs  in  sight. 

“Ray,  though,  is  developing  nicely,”  he  says.  “So  is  Rachael. 
They  tell  me  that  he  was  studying  to  become  a  Jesuit  but  was 
defrocked  for  drinking  the  communion  wine.  That’s  probably 
not  true.  He’s  intelligent.  I  can  always  count  on  him  to  summa¬ 
rize  accurately  whatever  point  I’m  struggling  to  make.  Of  all  of 
them,  he  would  make  the  best  teacher,  I  think.” 

A  cab  turns  onto  the  avenue  and  Meisner  raises  his  cane  to 
hail  it. 

“So  he  couldn’t  break  down.  That’s  not  important  at  this  early 
stage.  As  I  said,  preparation  is  really  very  simple.  It  just  takes  a 
few  years  to  learn.” 

The  cab  pulls  up  and  Meisner  gets  in. 


Improvisation 

Let  us  try  to  learn  some  of  the  characteristics  of  day-dreaming. 
We  can  begin  by  saying  that  happy  people  never  make 
fantasies,  only  unsatisfied  ones.  Unsatisfied  wishes  are  the 
driving  power  behind  fantasies;  every  separate  fantasy  contains 
the  fulfillment  of  a  wish,  and  improves  on  unsatisfactory 
reality.  The  impelling  wishes  vary  according  to  the  sex, 
character  and  circumstances  of  the  creator;  they  may  be  easily 
divided,  however,  into  two  principal  groups.  Either  they  are 
ambitious  wishes,  serving  to  exalt  the  person  creating  them,  or 
they  are  erotic.  In  young  women  erotic  wishes  dominate  the 
fantasies  almost  exclusively,  for  their  ambition  is  generally 
comprised  in  their  erotic  longings;  in  young  men  egoistic  and 
ambitious  wishes  assert  themselves  plainly  enough  alongside 
their  erotic  desires.  But  we  will  not  lay  stress  on  the 
distinction  between  those  two  trends;  we  prefer  to  emphasize 
the  fact  that  they  are  often  united.  In  many  altar-pieces  the 
portrait  of  the  donor  is  to  be  found  in  one  corner  of  the 
picture;  and  in  the  greater  number  of  ambitious  day-dreams, 
too,  we  can  discover  a  woman  in  some  corner,  for  whom  the 
dreamer  performs  all  his  heroic  deeds  and  at  whose  feet  all  his 
triumphs  are  to  be  laid.  .  .  . 

— Sigmund  Freud,  “The  Relation  of  the  Poet  to  Day-dreaming’’* 


February  6 

“Vincent  just  asked  me  a  peculiar  question;  ‘When  do  we  begin  on 
character  work?’  Well,  in  one  way  you  never  begin  on  character 
work.  In  another  way,  you’ve  already  begun  to  do  characters  be¬ 
cause  character  comes  from  how  you  feel  about  something.  So 
every  time  you  got  up  and  did  an  exercise,  you  were  playing  a 
character,  though  the  word  wasn’t  mentioned.  For  the  most  part, 
character  is  an  emotional  thing.  The  internal  part  of  character  is 

Collected  in  On  Creativity  and  the  Unconscious:  Papers  on  the  Psychology  of  Art , 
Literature ,  Love,  Religion,  selected  by  Benjamin  Nelson  (New  York,  Evanston, 
and  London:  Harper  &  Row,  1958),  47-48. 


IMPROVISATION 


defined  by  how  you  feel  about  something.  If  you  go  into  a  clothing 
store,  for  example,  and  see  a  suit  that  you  like  very  much  but  can’t 
afford,  and  you  buy  it  anyway — what  kind  of  person  are  you?” 

“Impulsive,”  Joseph  says. 

“Impulsive,”  Meisner  repeats.  “Or  foolhardy.  That  would  be 
the  essence  of  one  internal  component  of  the  character.  Let  s  take 
a  difficult  Strindberg  character  like  Miss  Julie.  Her  wish  to  de¬ 
stroy  men  because  of  her  hatred  of  them  also  makes  her  want  to 
look  beautiful  so  that  she  can  entice  them  into  a  trap  and  destroy 
their  egos.  Here  are  two  components  of  character:  the  inner  com¬ 
ponent,  which  determines  the  kind  of  person  she  is,  a  destroyer 
of  men,  which  is  dictated  by  Strindberg  and  which  the  actress 
intuitively  extracts  from  the  written  text;  and  an  outer  compo¬ 
nent,  the  external  portrait  epitomizing  her  wish  to  be  beautiful. 

“What  about  accents?"  Joseph  asks.  “Are  they  inner  or  outer 
components  of  character?” 

“The  man  who  recently  arrived  in  America  from  France  might 
have  a  heavy,  distinctly  French  accent.  But  if  the  author  tells  us 
that  he  has  spoken  English  for  most  of  his  life,  he  might  have  only 
a  trace  of  an  accent.  But  neither  circumstance  would  mitigate  the 
fact  that  at  heart  he  is  French:  cosmopolitan,  witty,  cynical  in  love 
— whatever  the  idea  of  being  French  might  instinctively  mean  to 
you.  At  this  early  stage  of  our  work,  you  must  rely  on  your 
instinctive  reaction  to  the  playwright’s  text.  At  this  point  charac¬ 
ter  is  justified  by  your  inner  response  to  what  you  read  in  the 
text.  But  remember,  an  accent  is  not  basic  and  organic  to  the 
character.  It  is  an  external  attribute,  like  red  hair  or  a  gold  tooth. 
The  basic  thing  is  an  emotional  essence — ‘cosmopolitan,  cyni¬ 
cal.’  That’s  the  source  of  character.” 

He  looks  at  Vincent  for  a  moment.  “You  look  like  a  disap¬ 
pointed  character  to  me,  Vince,  because  you’re  not  hearing  what 
you  want  to  hear.” 

Vince  starts  to  speak  but  stops. 

“Look,”  Meisner  says,  “if  somebody  says  to  two  other  people, 
‘Do  you  want  to  drink  some  unbelievably  strong  Japanese  sake?’ 
And  the  first  guy  says  emphatically,  ‘Yeah!  I  do!’  And  the  other 
guy  says,  ‘Yes.’  Pause.  Pause.  ‘I  do.’  Their  words  are  the  same  but 
are  they  the  same,  or  do  they  have  two  different  characters? 


98 


Vince?  You  started  me  on  this,  so  I’m  asking  you.  One  character 
you  can  define  as  being  what?” 

Impulsive,”  Vince  says. 

“Impulsive.  And  the  other?” 

“Cautious.” 

Well,  that’s  how  you  establish  character.  This  will  become 
clearer  when  we  begin  to  work  with  the  material  from  Edgar  Lee 
Masters  Spoon  River  Anthology.  Vince,  I’m  glad  you  asked  me  that 
question.  I  didn’t  mean  to  start  this  way,  but  I  guess  I’m  an 
adjustable  character. ” 


Here  s  the  outline  of  an  exercise  that  everybody  is  going  to  do 
1  wo  people  are  living  together,  not  necessarily  sexually.  One 
person  has  an  independent  activity,  and  the  other  one  comes  in 
rom  some  situation  which  requires  a  vivid  preparation.  I  said 
at  you  re  living  together,  so  there’s  no  question  of  knocking  on 
e  door,  but  you  can  live  separately  if  you  want  to.  That’s  your 
choice.  That  s  the  exercise.  Two  people,  one  of  whom  has  an  inde¬ 
pendent  activity  and  the  other  of  whom  comes  home  from  some 
situation  which  he  has  created  and  for  which  he  has  bre- 
pared.  The  process  is  one  of  working  off  each  other,  moment  to 
moment  That  s  essentially  the  improvisation.  Ray,  who’s  your 
partner?  y 

“Rose  Marie.” 

All  right,  come  up  here,  both  of  you.  You’re  living  together 
an,  Ray’  you’re  at  home.  That  means  you  must  have  a  genuine 
independent  activity.  It  doesn’t  have  anything  to  do  with  her— 
its  entirely  yours— and  that’s  what  you’ll  be  doing.  Have  you 
something  you  can  do?”  y 

“I  have  a  script  here  which  I  could  memorize  for  an  audition  ” 
Kay  says.  ,  ’ 

Good.  Now,  Rose  Marie,  you  have  just  come  from  a  situation 
of  your  own  invention,  out  of  which  you  get  a  preparation. 

reparation  is  self-stimulation.  Your  nature,  your  instinct,  dic¬ 
tates  the  kind  of  preparation  you  want.  If  you’d  just  gotten  a 
great  part  m  a  wonderful  show,  the  self-stimulation  that  is  your 
preparation  could  be  that  you’re  divinelyhappy.  It  could  also  be 


IMPROVISATION  7  7 

that  you’re  mystified  by  how  this  wonderful  situation  came 
about.  Aren’t  you  lucky?” 

Rose  Marie  nods.  - 

“So  to  begin  with*  we  have  Ray  at  home  immersed  in  his 
independent  activity,  and  then  Rose  Marie  comes  home  from 
some  invented  situation  out  of  which  she  has  extracted  a  prepara¬ 
tion.  Then  you  work  off  each  other’s  behavior  moment  to  mo¬ 
ment.  Are  there  any  questions?” 

“Sandy,”  John  asks,  “are  you  saying  that  when  we  come  up 
with  a  make-believe  situation  for  ourselves,  we  should  try  to 
make  it  so  real  that  it  can  move  us  emotionally?” 

“You  must.” 

“Okay.” 

“Let’s  start.  Rose  Marie,  where’s  your  hat  and  coat?” 

Rose  Marie  takes  her  coat  and  purse  from  a  chair  and  starts  to 

leave  the  room.  .  . 

“Ray,  where  are  you  going  to  do  your  independent  activity? 

“Here,”  Ray  says,  “in  my  house.” 

“It’s  her  house,  too.” 

“Yeah,”  Rose  Marie  says.  “I  don’t  have  to  knock.” 

“Who  are  you  to  each  other?” 

“Should  we  decide  that  together?”  Ray  asks.  Is  it  necessary  for 
me  to  know  what  she  thinks  our  relationship  is?” 

“It’s  necessary  for  you  to  know  if  you’re  living  together  as  man 
and  wife  or  brother  and  sister  or  whatever.” 

Rose  Marie  asks,  “In  an  exercise  like  this,  is  it  better  to  come 
in  with  a  feeling  or  to  come  in  with  a  purpose?” 

“If  you  were  just  fired  from  your  dream  part  and  came  in  fully 
prepared  and  determined  to  write  that  director  a  letter,  you  could 
do  that.  Or  you  could  come  in  just  riding  your  preparation.”, 

“Just  because  we  live  together,”  Rose  Marie  says,  doesn  t 
mean  that  when  I  come  home  I’ll  find  the  other  person  at  home 
too.  I  mean,  I  could  come  in  and  find  an  empty  apartment. 

“That  is  correct.” 

“Along  this  line,”  Ray  says,  “I  wanted  to  ask  if  the  preparation 
that  the  person  who’s  entering  uses  to  self-stimulate  himself 
emotionally  can  be  connected  to  the  person  who’s  in  the 
room?” 


-too 

“It’s  much  better  at  first  if  it’s  not,”  Meisner  says. “Come  on;  || 
let’s  see  what  you  do.”  m 

Ray  and  Rose  Marie  whisper  together  briefly,  and  when  she  || 
leaves  the  room  he  sits  at  the  long  table  with  his  script  and  begins  s|| 
to  memorize  it.  After  a  few  minutes  she  enters  and  they  perform  | 
the  exercise  as  Meisner  has  outlined  it.  -j 

“Okay,  how  was  that?”  Meisner  asks.  “No  one  wants  to  offer  ’’i 
their  opinion?”  a| 

“Pretty  good.”  *  if 

“You’d  say  that,  Joseph?  Pretty  good?  Why?”  .  j 

“Because  her  emotion  was  truthful  and  he  was  aware  and 
working  off  it.” 

“What  was  her  character?”  IS 

“Angry.”  :  | 

“Tempestuous,  I  think.  What  was  his  character?” 

“Helpful?”  ;  .j 

“Right.  Let’s  have  another.  Who  wants  to  go?”  ?$ 

Ray  and  Rose  Marie  return  to  their  chairs.  '?§ 

“Incidentally,  Ray,  your  independent  activity  wasn’t  interest¬ 
ing  enough.”  /  • 

“I  just  made  it  up  when  you  called  on  us  because  I  hadn’t  come 
prepared  with  one.”  '  .  ■ 

“How  could  you  have  made  it  more  interesting?” 

“I  could  have  learned  the  speech  with  a  particular  accent  out 
loud,  or  I  could  have  done  it  in  a  . particular  rhythm  and  I  had  to 
walk  in  that  rhythm—”  | 

“If  that’s  not  too  bizarre,  you  could  have  done  that,  I  suppose.  y;f 
Otherwise,  you  were  just  a  plain  memorizer — a  little  too  plain. 

You  must  learn  to'make  your  independent  activity  more  involv-  : 
ing  and  interesting  to  you.  Who  can  tell  me  what  this  exercisers  | 
all  about?” 

John  raises  his  hand.  “It’s  being  totally  involved  in  an  activity 
or  coming  in  with  a  full  preparation,  and  then  reacting  honestly 
to  an  outside  source  and  going  along  from  moment  to  moment.” 
“Who’s  the  outside  source?” 

“Well,  the  activity  could  be,  but  also  your  partner.” 

“Yes,  it’s  your  partner.  What  does  it  mean  to  use  what  exists? 
Joseph?” 


ft  IMPROVISATION  1  0  1 

“To  allow  what  exists  to  affect  you  rather  than  working  out  of 
your  head — what  you  think  should  exist — so  that  you’re  working 
from  an  actual  moment.” 

“That’s  about  right,”  Meisner  says  reflectively.  “That’s  about 
right.”  He  adjusts  the  microphone  attached  to  his  eyeglasses. 
“You  see,  this  exercise  adds  another  dimension.  The  actor  doing 
the  independent  activity  is  now  not  just  being  interrupted. 
Rather,  he  is  confronted  by  his  partner,  whose  inner  life,  because 
of  his  preparation,  is  compelling  and  persuasive.  The  partner 
enters  the  room  with  a  full  emotion,  and  the  two  of  them  react 
to  each  other  moment  to  moment.” 

“Let’s  talk  about  this.  It’s  nearer  to  what’s  wanted,”  Meisner  says. 

John  and  Rachael  stop  improvising  and  sit  down  together  on 
the  bed  against  the  wall. 

“John,  where  did  you  come  from?” 

“I  came  from  seeing  someone  on  the  street.” 

“Seeing  who?” 

“A  writer  whose  play  I  want  to  produce,  and  he’s  very  particu¬ 
lar.  It’s  almost  impossible  to  get  his  permission,  but  he  agreed  to 
give  me  thirty  minutes  of  his  time  to  tell  him  my  ideas  to  see  if 
we  agree.” 

“Okay.  Listen,  everybody.  It’s  became  you  met  a  playwright, 
and  it’s  because  he  has  a  play  you’d  like  to  produce,  and  it’s  became 
he  said  he’d  come  and  talk  to  you:  How  do  you  feel?" 

“I  feel  excited.” 

“Then  you  could  have  had  more  excitement,  you  see?  The 
more  you  have,  the  more  she  would  be  stopped  from  doing  her 
independent  activity.  Because  you  didn’t  pick  a  situation  which 
is  provocative  enough  to  you,  you  didn’t  bring  in  a  full  enough 
emotion.  What’s  that  mean?” 

“It  means  that  I  didn’t  generate  a  real,  honest,  strong  feeling 
that  overwhelmed  me,”  John  says. 

“And  what  would  you  need  to  get  that?” 

“A  better  situation  that  moves  me.” 

“And  then  you  improvise.” 

Ray  raises  his  hand.  “When  you  say  ‘improvise,’  do  you  mean 


102 


that  we  should  be  doing  less  repetition  and  more  .  .  .  talking,  so 
that  it  sounds  more  like  dialogue?  I  know  what  you  mean  by 
improvisation,  but  what  I’m  asking  is  does  it  lead  to  something 
that^sounds  more  like  dialogue  and  less  like  repetition?” 

;  “°kay-  The  other  question  I  have  is  that  the  relationship  be¬ 
tween  the  two  people  doesn’t  seem  to  matter  at  this  point,  except 
that  it  removes  the  knock  and  spontaneously  affects  the  attitude 
they  have  toward  each  other  ” 

“Yes.” 


(  Other  than  that,  it’s  just  like  what  we’ve  been  doing?” 

Yes.  This  improvisation  is  the  same  thing  as  the  exercises  you 
have  been  doing  all  along,  except  that  it  adds  a  stronger,  fuller 

preparation.  What  have  I  added  to  the  exercise  that  you  did 
before  Christmas?” 

You  ve  added  that  we  know  who  we  are  to  each  other  when 
we  enter,”  Bette  says. 

And  I’ve  added  that  you  come  from  a  strong  situation  which 
gives  you  a  springboard  for  a  full  preparation.” 

You  have  to  have  a  story,  as  well  as  your  emotional  prepara¬ 
tion,  right?”  Ray  asks.  “Earlier,  emotional  preparation  was  any¬ 
thing  you  imagined  to  set  yourself  off  emotionally,  but  now  we 
have  to  give  it  .  .  .” 

Justification,”  Meisner  says. 

“Yeah.  So  that  I’m  able  to  say  that  the  emotion  I  came  into  the 
room^with  is  the  result  of  something  that  just  happened  to  me.” 


“Thatstrengthens  it,”  Rose  Marie  says,  “doesn’t  it?” 


“It  makes  it  more  like  a  play,”  Ray  adds. 

No,  it  makes  you  fuller.  You  must  give  your  self-stimulation 
more  of  a  chance  to  be  deeper  and  bigger.  What’s  that  mean?” 

JJon  t  put  limitations  on  your  emotional  behavior,”  Rose 
Marie  says. 

Certainly  not.  That’s  right.” 

“It’s  difficult  to  do  because  we’ve  been  trained  since  we  were 
children  to  be  restrained  emotionally-at  least  some  of  us  have 
—and  every  day  we’re  constantly  aware  of  what  our  proper 


IMPROVISATION 


103 


limitations  are.  We  always  know  what  our  boundaries  are  and  it’s 
difficult  to  break  them,  even  in  an  acting  class.  But  emotional 
freedom  gets  easier  when  you  try  to  go  along  the  path  your  inner 
life  is  sending  you.” 

“I’m  glad  you  said  that,”  Meisner  says  and  the  class  laughs. 


February  9 

“Let’s  talk  about  this.  I  liked  it.” 

Joseph  sighs  in  relief. 

“I  could  wish  that  it  were  fuller  on  your  part,  Joseph.  What 
would  have  made  it  fuller?” 

“A  preparation  that  was  fuller.” 

“But  what  preparation  would  make  it  more  provocative  to 
you?” 

“Something  that  was  more  specific  and  meaningful  to  me.” 
“What  were  those  two  word's?” 

“Specific  and  meaningful.” 

“That’s  right.” 

“I  had  it,  but  then  I  lost  it.” 

“That’s  very  possible,  but  I  don’t  criticize  you  for  that.  You’re 
well  on  your  way  towards  preparation,  and  now  it  needs  to  be 
genuinely  fuller,  more  forceful.  Do  you  understand?” 

“Yes.”  , 

“In  Hamlet,  in  the  beginning  .  .  .  I’m  talking  badly  today.  Can 
you  understand  me?” 

“Yes,”  say  the  students. 

“In  the  beginning  of  the  play,  Hamlet  is  in  a  deep  depression. 
What  causes  it?”  1  ■  .  • 

“The  death  of  his  father,”  Joseph  says  in  his  quiet,  deep  voice. 
“His  father  was  murdered,  right?” 

■  “By  his  uncle.” 

“That  adds  to  it.  If  somebody  had  swatted  a  fly  on  his  desk  and 
left  it  there,  would  that  cause  a  deep  depression?” 

“No.” 

“I  don’t  think  so  either.” 

“Let  me  ask  you  a  question  about  Hamlet  specifically,”  Joseph 


104 

says.  “In  the  beginning  of  the  play  he  has  that  speech  about  his 
mother,  the  one  that  starts,  ‘O!  that  this  too  too  solid  flesh  would 
melt,  /  Thaw  and  resolve  itself  into  a  dew.  .  .  .’  It’s  about  his 
mother  marrying  his  uncle,  his  father’s  murderer.  What  would 
one  use  for  a  preparation?” 

“I  don’t  know,”  Meisner  says.  “I  don’t  know  who’s  playing  it.” 

After  a  pause  Joseph  says,  “It’s  just  what  works  for  you,  then?” 

“That’s  right.  Work  for  a  fuller  preparation.  You  know,  one 
thing  that’s  constant  in  a  brick  wall  is  that  a  brick  is  a  brick  is 
a  brick.  What’s  thanmean?” 

“It  means  that  it’s  never  anything  other  than  a  brick,”  Bette, 
Joseph’s  partner,  says. 

“It’s  that  the  basis  of  the  performance  is  the  fundamental  real¬ 
ity  that  you  had  today.  But  instead  of  a  pint  of  acting,  I’m  looking 
for  a  legitimate  gallon.”  He  looks  at  Bette,  who  still  sits  at  the 
long  table.  Cards  with  printing  on  them  are  spread  before  her. 
“Why  were  you  playing  with  those  cards?  How  much  were  you 
going  to  win?” 

Bette  says,  “I  don’t  know  whether  I  do  this  right.  I  have  a 
whole  scenario  planned  which'  is  very  specific  and  personal  to 
me,  and  I’m  afraid  it  might  sound  corny  to  anybody  else.” 

“Twenty-five  dollars  is  enough.” 

“Oh,  no,  it  was — ” 

“More  complicated?” 

“Maybe  I  should  tell  you,  because  maybe  it  isn’t  the  right  kind 
of  thing.” 

“Tell  me.” 

“Okay.  In  my  imaginary  situation  I’m  doing  volunteer  work 
at  Sloan-Kettering,'  the  cancer  hospital.  I  work  with  older  kids, 
and  I  befriended  a  fourteen-year-old  boy  who  said  that  his  dream 
was  to  be  an  actor.  But  a  lot  of  kids  there  aren’t  going  anywhere. 
But  there  was  some  hope  for  him,  and  I’ve  just  found  out  that  he’s 
not  going  anywhere  either.  I  promised  him  that  when  I  came  in 
on  Monday  we  were  going  to  recite  Shakespeare — these  cards 
have  passages  from  Shakespeare  on  them — ” 

“It’s  too  complicated.” 

Bette  pauses  to  think  for  a  moment.  “What  if  I  used  these  cards 
to  make  a  house?” 


IMPROVISATION 


105 


“At  Sloan-Kettering?  Learning  how  to  do  it  to  distract  them?” 

“Do  you  think  that’s  stupid?”  Bette  says. 

“No!  I  was  at  Sloan-Kettering!” 

“But  you  think  my  earlier  reasons  were  too  complicated?” 

“Yes.” 

“Because  they  get  too  jumbled  up?” 

“You've  got  to  get  a  reaction  from  inside  yourself,  and  the 
more  complicated  it  is,  the  more  difficult  it  is  to  get  involved 
emotionally.” 

“So  I  can  get  more  self-stimulation  by  just  showing  the  child 
how  to  build  a  house  of  cards?” 

“Involvement.  You  can  get  more  involvement  for  yourself  by 
knowing  that  you’re  doing  it  to  entertain  a  dying  child.  Simplic¬ 
ity  is  essential.  Don’t  clutter  yourself.  All  I  have  to  say  to  myself 
is  ‘Hitler,’  and  something  is  there.  Do  you  understand  that?  It’s 
because  I’m  Spanish.” 


“Bruce,  do  you  remember  hearing  Ray  ask  if  in  this  form  of  the 
improvisation  the  repetition  becomes  less  mindless  and  more 
reasonable,  so  that  the  result  is  more  like  human  dialogue?” 

In  frustration,  Bruce  runs  both  hands  through  his  thinning 
hair.  “Yes,  but  I  couldn’t  seem  to  do  it.” 

“You  couldn’t  seem  to  do  it?  Wait  a  minute.  What  color  is  your 
shirt?” 

“It’s  maroon.” 

“That  wasn’t  repetition.  I  asked  you  what  color  the  shirt  was 
and  you  told  me.  You  didn’t  repeat,  did  you?” 

“No,  I  didn’t  repeat.  I  just  answered  the  question.” 

“What  color  are  your  socks?” 

“Black.” 

“Do  you  have  a  name  other  than  Bruce?” 

“Sure.” 

“What  is  it?” 

“Patrick.” 

“Did  you  repeat?  Why  do  you  say  that  you  can’t  answer  a 
question?  You  just  did  it!” 

“I  don’t  know.  I  just  felt  stuck.” 


106 


“It’s  all  right.  What’s  the  color  of  these  walls?” 

“Yellow.” 

“Do  you  like  that  color?” 

“It’s  okay.” 

“What  color  would  you  prefer?” 

Bruce  pauses  a  moment  to  reflect.  “Gray.” 

“Did  you  think  about  that?” 

“For  a  second.”  .  . 

“And  then  when  you’d  thought  about  it,  you  answered,  right? 
So  when  somebody  asks  you  a  question  you  can  answer  it,  can’t 
you?” 

“Yes.  But  when  Lila  kept  asking  me  in  the  exercise  what  was 
wrong,  the  answer  should  have  been,  ‘I’m  upset.’  But  I  thought 
I  wasn’t  supposed  to  reveal  what  my  preparation  was.” 

“Look,  you’re  going  to  ask  me  a  question,  and  I’m  going  to 
show  you  a  way  of  answering  by  not  using  the  direct  truth.  How 
old  am  I?  How  old  do  you  think  I  am?” 

Bruce  bursts  into  laughter. 

“What’s  so  funny?” 

“About  fifty?”  Bruce  asks. 

“Right!”  Meisner  replies,  and  the  class  laughs. .“Bruce,  how  old 
are  you?  Lie  to  me.” 

“Twenty-eight.” 

“You  don’t  look  it,”  Meisner  says  and  Bruce  laughs  again. 
“What’s  funny  about  that?” 

“It’s  such  a  lie!”  ' 

“What’s  a  lie?” 

“Twenty-eight.”  . 

“That’s  a  lie?”  ’ 

“Yeah.” 

“You  see,  we’re  having  a  conversation,  aren’t  we?  That’s  the 
direction  in  which  the  improvisation  exercise  is  going.  Do  you 
understand?” 

Bruce  nods. 

“Lila,”  Meisner  says  to  Bruce’s  partner,  “the  same  problem 
exists  with  you.  What  does  it  mean  to  respond  reasonably?” 

“To  respond  reasonably?” 


IMPROVISATION 


107 


“What  time  is  it?  What’s  the  logical  response?” 

“I  don’t  know.”' 

“Why  don’t  you  know?  You’re  wearing  a  watch.  Why  don’t 
you  look  at  it?” 

“It’s  about  five-ten.” 

“That  kind  of  indecision  is  no  good  for  this  exercise.  What 
should  you  have  said?” 

“Five-ten.” 

“Right.  Now,  if  I  say,  ‘What  time  is  it?,’  what’s  your  . repetitive, 
theatrical  answer?” 

“My  theatrical  answer?” 

“In  this  exercise.” 

“I’m  confused,”  Lila  says,  and  her  large  blue  eyes  scan  his  face 
anxiously. 

“Your  repetitive,  theatrical  answer  to  my  saying,  ‘What  time 
is  it?’  is  for  you  to  say,  ‘What  time  is  it?’  Then  I  say,  ‘What  time 
is  it?’  and  you  say,  ‘What  time  is  it?’  and  I  say,  ‘You’re  getting 
annoyed,’  and  you  say,  ‘I’m  getting  annoyed,’  and  I  say,  ‘Yes, 
you’re  getting  annoyed,’  and  you  say,  ‘Yes,  I’m  getting  annoyed,’ 
and  I  say,  ‘Yes,  that’s  right,  you’re  annoyed,’  and  you  say,  ‘Yes, 
that’s  right,  I’m  annoyed!’  Now,  is  that  dialogue  reasonable,  or 
is  it  repetitive  and,  in  the  sense  of  this  exercise,  theatrical?” 

“Theatrical.”  . 

“Yes.  In  the  beginning  the  mindless  repetition  of  the  basic 
exercise  had  value.  It  eliminated  a  need  for  you  to  think  and  to 
write  dialogue  out  of  your  head  in  order  to  keep  talking — as  if 
acting  were  talking,  which  it  is  not.  And  the  illogical  nature  of 
the  dialogue  opened  you  up  to  the  impulsive  shifts,  in  your  in¬ 
stinctual  behavior  caused  by  what  was  being  done  to  you  by  your 
partner,  which  can  lead  to  real  emotion.  This  is  fundamental  to 
good  acting.  Now  I’m  saying  we  have  moved  beyond  the  funda¬ 
mental.  Now  it’s  possible  to  respond  reasonably.  So  if  your 
partner  asks  you  what  time  it  is,  for  God’s  sake  look  at  your 
watch  and  tell  him!  And  if  he  has  the  temerity  to  ask  you  how 
old  you  are,  you  have  my  permission  to  lie  to  him  through  your 
teeth!” 


* 


108 


February  13 

Sarah  sits  on  the  bed  against  the  wall,  intently  reading  a  book. 
Suddenly,  with  an  explosive  burst,  the  door  slams  open  and  Vin¬ 
cent  hurtles  into  the  room.  Under  an  open  gray  cardigan  he 
wears  the  same  T-shirt  with  bright  pink  lettering  on  it  which  he 
wore  on  the  first  day  of  class.  He  stands  breathing  heavily  for  a 
moment  and  then  quickly  closes  the  door  and  begins  to  barricade 
it  with  a  chest  of  drawers.  “Good  God,”  Sarah  exclaims,  “what’s 
going  on?”  Vincent  ignores  her  question  and  begins  to  stack  first 
one  chair  and  then  another  onto  the  chest. 

Meisner  whispers  to  Ralph  for  a  moment.  Ralph  nods,  and 
leaves  the  room  quietly  by  the  back  door.  Vincent  is  now  at¬ 
tempting  to  hide,  and  crouches  between  the  head  of  the  bed  on 
which  Sarah  sits  and  the  wall.  He  continues  to  breathe  in  an 
exaggerated,  theatrical  way.  Suddenly  there  is  a  sharp  rap  on  the 
door,  then  another,  then  a  third.  • 

Meisner  raises  his  hand  and  stops  the  exercise.  “How  come, 
Vince,  when  there  was  a  knock  at  the  door,  nothing  happened  to 
you?  But  you  came  in  like  gangbusters.  How  come?  Who  was 
chasing  you?” 

“I  have  no  idea  who  he  was.  Some  guy  on  the  subway.” 

“Why  was  he  chasing  you?” 

“I  don’t  know.  He  was  crazy.  I  stepped  on  his  foot  and  he  ran 
after  me  all  the  way  saying,  ‘I’m  going  to  kill  your  mother-fuckin’ 
ass.’  ” 

“Too  general,”  Meisner  says  firmly.  “Not  specific.  And  mean¬ 
ingless.  You  were  playing  a  melodrama.  If  you  had  come  in  here 
because  a  cop  was  on  your  tail,  the  knock  would  have  meant 
something.”  '  • 

“You  mean  not  wanting  to  get  cut  up  wasn’t  enough,”  Vince 
says  defensively. 

“But  what  happened  to  you?  Nothing  happened  to  you  except 
an  assumed  fear.  You  were  playing  a  drama,  being  chased  by  a 
guy  with  a,  knife.  Was  that  it?  That  would  be  acceptable  if  it  were 
more  specific  and  you  had  an  emotion.  But  when  the  knock  on 
the  door  came,  nothing  happened  to  you.  So  it  had  no  reality,  did 
it?” 


IMPROVISATION 


■109 


“I  see  what  you’re  saying,”  Vince  says  quietly. 

“What  about  you,  Sarah?” 

“I  didn’t  know  what  was  going  on.” 

“Did  it  ever  occur'  to  you  that  maybe  he  was  crazy?” 

“Yes,  because  when  I  asked  him  what  was  wrong,  he  wouldn’t 
answer  me.  He  just  hid.” 

“You  see,  the  truth  wasn’t  in  this.  A  melodramatic  situation 
was  being  indicated,  but  nothing  happened  to  you,  do  you  fol¬ 
low?” 

“Yeah,”  says  Vince. 

“What  did  I  say?” 

“You  said  that  what  I  was  doing  was  not  real.  It  was  an  indica¬ 
tion  of  what  I  thought  being  frightened  and  being  afraid  should 
be.” 

“Why  are  you  angry?”  Meisner  asks. 

“Because  I  told  you  that  I  knew!” 

“How  can  I  take  that  for  granted  unless  you’re  more  explicit?” 
Meisner  asks. 

Vincent  shrugs  his  shoulders  as  if  he  wants  to  drop  the  subject. 

“I  should  have  used  that,  right?”  Sarah  asks. 

“You  should  have  used  the  fact  that  there  was  something  illogi¬ 
cal  or  untruthful  in  his  behavior,  yes.” 

Vincent  shifts  his  weight  from  his  right  leg  to  his  left. 

“Let’s  assume  that  Sarah  is  your  sister  and  you  share  an  apart¬ 
ment.  Why  would  it  have  been  better,  Vince,  if  you’d  come  home 
after  finding  out  that  your  girl  was  going  to  marry  some  guy  with 
a  lot  of  money?  Why  would  that  be  better?” 

“Because  ...  I  don’t  know.” 

“Is  it  human?  Is  it  in  you?  The  disappointment,  the  humilia¬ 
tion,  whatever  it  is,  would  that  be  in  you?  One  can  imagine  that 
if  you  had  that,  you’d  come  in  and  go  sit  in  the  corner  because 
she’d  just  made  a  jackass  out  of  you.  Do  you  see?” 

“Are  you  saying  that  in  a  circumstance  like  that  you  say  to 
yourself,  ‘How  does  that  affect  me?  It  affects  me  like  this.’  ”  He 
puckers  his  face  into  a  pout.  “And  then  you  come  in  doing  that?” 

“No.  It  affects  you,  and  then  you  come  in  and  do  whatever  your 
impulses  let  you  do.” 

“I  understand  exactly  what  you  said.  I’ll  try  to  do  that.” 


110 


Do  you  understand  what  I  mean  when  I  say  that  this  was  a 
general,  melodramatic  situation  and  that  you  were  indicating'1” 

“Yeah.”  . 

“Sarah,  you  didn’t  get  anything  specific  from  him  except  curi¬ 
osity?”  ;  •  :  .....  . 

“Actually,  I  did,  but  I  didn’t — ” 

“What?”  ...  .  V 

Well,  I  didn’t  feel  that  it  was  real.” 

“That’s  what  I’m  telling  you!”  - 

“And  I  didn’t  comment  on  it.” 

You’re  too  polite,  and  in  acting  politeness  will  get  you  no¬ 
where!  Look,  find  in  yourselves  those  human  things  which  are 
universal.  Don  t  act  out  what  you  see  on  television!  All  we 
needed  here  was  a  posse  coming  through  the  door!”  He  pauses 
for  a  moment.  “What  if  you  were  a  kid  and  you  came  home  from 
school  much  earlier  than  usual,  and  you  told  your  mother  that 
the  school  was  closed  because  there  was  a  big  fire  and  you  almost 
got  burned?  Now,  that’s  a  lie!  What  makes  your  mother  believe 
it?  What  makes  her  believe  that  you’re  telling  the  truth?” 

Specifics?  Bette  asks.  “You'tell  her  specific  things  that  hap¬ 
pened.”  .  ‘  "  1 

Meisner  says,  “The  playwright  would  give  you  that.  What 
would  make  you  a  convincing  liar?” 

“Your  behavior,”  says  Joseph. 

“What  part  of  your  behavior?” 

“If  you  believe  it — ” 

“Your  emotional  behavior.  If  you  go  like  this,”  and  he  puffs 
lightly  on  his  fingers,  “that’s  not  going  to  do  it.” 

“If  you  walk  in  sobbing  it  might,”  Bette  says. 

It  s  the  reality  of  the  emotion  which  makes  the  lie  convinc¬ 
ing,”  Meisner  says.  “I  could  say  more  about  that,  but  I  don’t  want 
to  now.” 


Joseph,  what  you  had  was  very  good,  clear  and  sensitive.  It 
needed  to  be  fuller.  It  needed  to  be  more  personal,  which  would 
have  made  it  fuller.  Why  were  you  writing  that  letter?” 


IMPROVISATION 


111 


“I  just  learned  that  someone  I  loved,  my  aunt,  had  died.  I 
thought  it  was  pretty  personal.” 

“But  you  didn’t  let  go.  You  started  out  well,  but  then  it  began 
to  wane,  until  it  had  the  reflection  of  a  mood.  How  could  you 
have  made  it  fuller?  I’ll  tell  you:  if  it  had  something  personal  to 
you  which  had  rocked  you.” 

“There  were  moments  when  it  got  away  from  me,  yes.  But  it 
came  back  as  well.  It  came  and  went,  is  what  I’m  saying.” 

“It  should  have  started  on  a  more  driving  level.”  Meisner  turns 
to  Bette,  Joseph’s  partner.  “That  was  nice:  sensitive  to  him,  sim¬ 
ple,  true,  with  content.  Where  did  you  come  from?” 

“I’d  just  spoken  to  my  agent,  who  told  me  that  the  other  girl 
who’s  up  for  the  same  part  is  going  to  take  another  job.  The  part 
I  want  is  ninety  percent  in  the  bag  for  me.” 

“Then  that  should  have  made  you  ecstatic!” 

“I  was  ecstatic,  But  I  was  also  afraid.  I  didn’t  want  to  blow  it 
by  being  too  excited.  I’m  very  superstitious  that  way.” 

“You  should  try  it  anyway.  Otherwise  you’re  saying,  ‘I  want 
to  be  proper.’  Don’t  be  proper!  Joseph  was  proper.  It  was  very 
nice,  it  was  sensitive  and  true,  but  it  wasn’t  full  enough.” 

“I  don’t  quite  understand,”  Ray  says.  “You  use  the  word  full 
a  lot.  Sometimes  it  sounds  to  me  that  you  mean  it  as  a  synonym 
for  deeper,  and  sometimes  for  larger.” 

“Not  larger,  deeper.” 

“Which  doesn’t  necessarily  mean  that  the  actor  is  going  to  be 
any  bigger  than  he  already  is?” 

Meisner  nods. 

“So  Joseph  could  use  the  fact  of  his  aunt’s  dying,”  Rose  Marie 
says,  “but  he  should  have  made  it  more  personal  to  him,  like  she 
was  the  one  who  raised  him  since  he  was  two  years  old,  or — ” 

“Or,”  Meisner  says,  “that  he  was  responsible  for  her  death.  If 
he’d  been  a  medical  student  and  given  her  a  pill  which  was 
experimental  and  it  killed  her,  that  would,  make  it  fuller.” 

He  pauses  a  moment  while  the  class  absorbs  his  point. 

“Originally  my  preparation  was  going  to  be  that  I  got  the  job,” 
Bette  says  finally.  “I  was  going  to  come  in  crazy,  wild  and  happy! 
But  I  have  trouble  getting  there.” 


112 

“Take  your  time,”  Meisner  says.  “Take  your  time.” 

“But  I  don’t  know  if  I’ll  ever  get  there.” 

“Try  it!”  And  after  a  pause,  “Try  it\ ” 

February  16 

“I’m  in  a  terrible  mood  today  and  I’m  going  to  take  it  out  on  you. 
Why  should  I  be  masochistic?  You  know,  most  of  you  have  stud¬ 
ied  with  other  teachers — I  should  say  ‘mis-studied’  with  other 
teachers — and  that  doesn’t  make  our  problem  any  easier.”  He 
looks  at  Scott  Roberts.  “Who  isn’t  here?” 

“I  believe  everybody  is  here.” 

“What?” 

“I  believe  everybody  is  here.  I  was  just  going  over  the  list.” 

“Your  diction  is  awful!” 

“I’m  sorry,”  Scott  says.  “I  believe  everybody  is  here.  Yes,  ev¬ 
erybody  is  here.” 

Meisner  adjusts  the  microphone  before  continuing.  “Do  you 
honestly  think — and  I  mean  honestly  like  what  exists  in  the  Bible 
and  no  place  else — that  you’re  learning?” 

There  is  a  chorus  of  yesses  from  the  students. 

“Don’t  flatter  me!”  Meisner  exclaims. 

“I’m  not,”  Anna  says. 

“How  many  people  think  they’re  not  learning?”  He  looks 
around  the  room. 

“What  was  the  original  question,  Sandy?”  Joseph  asks.  “I 
didn’t  understand  it.” 

“Repeat  it!”  he  says  to  Rose  Marie. 

“Do  you  think — honestly  as  in  the  Bible — that  you’re  learning 
.  .  .  something  here  in  class,  I  guess  he  means.” 

“That’s  the  question.” 

“Raise  your  hand  if  you’re  not,”  Rose  Marie  says. 

“I  don’t  see  any  hands,”  Meisner  says,  his  eyes  scanning  the 
two  rows  of  seated  students.  Slowly,  but  with  sureness,  Vincent 
raises  his  right  hand  into  the  air.  After  a  moment,  Meisner  says 
to  the  class,  “Do  you  think  this  technique  is  for  everyone?”  There 


IMPROVISATION 


113 

is  a  pause.  “I  don’t,  and  that’s  right,  Vince,  you’re  not  learning. 

I  suggest  you  pack  it  in  here  and  go  find  another  teacher  more 
to  your  liking.” 

Vincent’s  hand  drops  to  his  side,  “Okay,”  he  says  quietly  and 
shrugs  his  shoulders. 

“I  think  you  should  leave  right  now!”  Meisner  exclaims.  Vince 
nods  stiffly,  as  if  in  shock,  and  then  proceeds  to  collect  his  coat 
from  under  his  seat  and  stand  up.  There  is  a  pause  while  he  works 
his  way  to  the  aisle  and  begins  to  cross  the  acting  area,  moving 
toward  the  door.  At  midpoint  Meisner  asks,  “Who  was  your 
partner?” 

“Sarah,”  Vince  says. 

“Sarah?  Who  can  take  on  two  partners?” 

Ray  raises  his  hand. 

“Ray,  you’ll  give  it  a  try?”  Meisner  asks. 

Ray  nods. 

“Then  work  with  Sarah.” 

Vincent  stands  frozen  in  the  middle  of  the  room.  He  slowly 
raises  his  right  hand  again,  this  time  in  a  kind  of  salute.  “Thank 
you.” 

“Okay,”  Meisner  says  with  a  wave  of  his  right  hand.  “So  long 
and  good  luck.” 

Vincent  turns,  walks  through  the  open  door  and  is  gone. 
“Okay,  Lila  and  Bruce,  let’s  go!” 

The  two  students  stand  and  move  onto  the  acting  area  and  the 
class  resumes. 

II 

“It  kills  me  when  I  have  to  ask  a  student  to  leave  my  class,” 
Meisner  says  as  he  opens  the  door  to  his  small,  one-bedroom 
apartment.  “But  when  I  see  that  he  cannot  learn  what  I  have  to 
teach,  and  that  his  presence  has  become  detrimental  to  other 
students  who  are  learning,  then,  as  a  responsible  teacher,  I  must 
do  it.  I  usually  write  to  say  that  I  regret  that  in  my  opinion  I  am 
not  the  right  teacher  for  him  or  I  have  Scott  call  him  to  explain 


114 

the  same  thing— whichever  is  less  painful  for  both  of  us.  The 
theatrics  of  this  afternoon  are  not  the  norm.” 

Meisner  stiffly  removes  the  heavy  wool  coat  with  a  fur  collar, 
his  protection  against  the  icy  New  York  winter.  “I’ve  decided  to 
ask  Philip  and  Bruce  to  leave  too.” 

He  walks  slowly  with  the  aid  of  his  cane  into  the  living  room 
of  the  apartment  and  perches  stiffly  on  a  special  high-backed 
chair  with  long  legs  that  he  had  built  for  his  use  after  his  hip 
operation. 

“Philip  is  a  sweet  kid — too  sweet  perhaps  to  survive  as  an  actor 
— although  he  wants  to  be  one  desperately.  Scott  told  me  that  he 
works  in  some  kind  of  a  cafeteria  that  stays  open  all  night.  He 
works  then  so  that  his  afternoons  are  free  to  take  classes  and  go 
to  auditions.  It’s  clear  to  me  that  he  wants  to  act  but  that  his 
inhibitions— I  blame  it  on  his  parents— have  crippled  him.  I  seri¬ 
ously  doubt  that  he  will  ever  become  a  successful  actor. 

“In  a  funny  way,  Bruce  is  quite  similar.  Although  he’s  been  in 
this  business  for  twenty  years,  like  Lila — who  God  knows  I 
should  get  rid  of  too — he  has  no  technique.  Instead,  he  has  ac¬ 
cumulated  an  awesome  number  of  superficial  tricks  in  an  at¬ 
tempt,  I  suppose,  to  make  himself  feel  more  secure.  But  the  result 
is  an  intense  self-consciousness  that  cuts  him  off  from  his  partner 
and  the  possibility  of  transcending  his  own  scared  self. 

“Acting  is  a  scary,  paradoxical  business.  One  of  its  central 
paradoxes  is  that  in  order  to  succeed  as  an  actor  you  have  to  lose 
consciousness  of  your  own  self  in  order  to  transform  yourself 
into  the  character  in  the  play.  It’s  not  easy,  but  it  can  be  done. 
I’m  only  sorry  that  I  cannot  teach  Bruce,  Philip  and  Vincent— 
and  so  many  others' — how  to  do  it.” 


More  on  Preparation:  “Quick  As  Flame” 

.  .  .  In  the  great  scene  of  the  third  act  of  the  “Merchant  of 
Venice,”  Shylock  has  to  come  on  in  a  state  of  intense  rage 
and  grief  at  the  flight  of  his  daughter.  Now  it  is  obviously 
a  great  trial  for  the  actor  to  “strike  twelve  at  once.”  He  is 
one  moment  calm  in  the  green-room,  and  the  next  he  has 
to  appear  on  the  stage  with  his  whole  nature  in  an  uproar. 
Unless  he  has  a  very  mobile  temperament,  quick  as  flame, 
he  cannot  begin  this  scene  at  the  proper  state  of  white 
heat.  Accordingly,  we  see  actors  in  general  come  bawling 
and  gesticulating,  but  leaving  us  unmoved  because  they  are 
not  moved  themselves.  Macready  it  is  said,  used  to  spend 
some  minutes  behind  the  scenes,  lashing  himself  into  an 
imaginative  rage  by  cursing  sotto  voce,  and  shaking 
violently  a  ladder  fixed  against  the  wall.  To  by-standers  the 
effect  must  have  been  ludicrous.  But  to  the  audience  the 
actor  presented  himself  as  one  really  agitated.  He  had 
worked  himself  up  to  the  proper  pitch  of  excitement  which 
would  enable  him  to  express  the  rage  of  Shylock. 

— George  Henry  Lewes,  On  Actors  and  the  Art  of  Acting* 


February  20 


“The  text  is  like  a  canoe,”  Meisner  says,  “and  the  river  on 
which  it  sits  is  the  emotion.  The  text  floats  on  the  river.  If  the 
water  of  the  river  is  turbulent,  the  words  will  come  out  like  a 
canoe  on  a  rough  river.  It  all  depends  on  the  flow  of  the  river 
which  is  your  emotion.  The  text  takes  on  the  character  of  your 
emotion.  That’s  what  this  exercise  is  for:  how  to  let  the  river  of 
your  emotion  flow  untrammeled,  with  the  words  floating  on 
top  of  it.” 

Bruce  runs  his  hands  nervously  through  his  thinning  hair. 


London:  Smith,  Elder  &  Co.,  1875,  44. 


When  told  he  was  dropped  from  the  class,  Bruce  asked  for  an¬ 
other  chance  and  Meisner  reluctantly  agreed. 

“This  is  a  very  significant  exercise  for  you  because  your  ten¬ 
dency,  Bruce,  is  to  sit  on  your  emotion  and  hide  it.  You  had  a 
moment  before  you  began,  before  Lila  came  in,  when  I  thought 
you  were  going  to  sob.  But  then  you  squelched  it!” 

“It’s  hard  to  let  go,”  Bruce  says. 

Meisner  waves  his  hand  impatiently.  “Begin  working  on  this 
problem  by  allowing  yourself  to  overdo  it.  You  should  do  what 
I  do  when  I  practice  diving  in  the  Caribbean.  I  just  go!  I  know 
it’s  not  easy.  It’s  formidable.  Just  go!  And  don’t  give  yourself  a 
reason  why  you  shouldn’t!  If  you  want  to  throw  yourself  on  the 
floor  and  chew  a  leg  of  that  table,  it’s  fine  with  me.  It’s  undig¬ 
nified,  it’s  unmanly,  it’s  ungentlemanly — but  it’s  very  good  for 
your  acting!”  / 

“I’ll  try,”  Bruce  says. 

“I  don’t  care  when  you  learn  the  lines,”  Meisner  says.  “And 
don’t  try  to  learn  them  in  relation  to  the  emotion  you  think  you 
should  have.  First  build  a  canoe  and  then  put  it  on  the  water,  and 
whatever  the  water  does,  the  canoe  follows.  The  text  is  the  canoe, 
but  you  must  begin  by  putting  the  emphasis  on  the  stormy  river. 
I  can’t  be  any  clearer  than  that.”  He  turns  toward  the  seated  class 
and  continues.  “We’re  not  talking  about  a  finished  performance; 
we’re  talking  about  an  exercise.  When  Horowitz  plays  scales  he 
isn’t  concerned  either  with  Beethoven  or  an  audience.  To  change 
the  metaphor,  I  cannot  train  baseball  players  who  only  know 
how  to  bunt!” 

Bruce  and  Lila  return  to  their  seats,  and  Meisner  waits' a  mo¬ 
ment  before  continuing.  “Does  this  upset  you,  this  class?  We’re 
dealing  with  a  very  mysterious  subject.” 

“A  little  bit,  yes,”  John  says.  “It’s  upsetting  to  see  how  our  lives 
inhibit  us.  It  seems  horrible  that  we’re  so  conditioned  to  keep 
everything  in.  Now,  all  of  a  sudden,  it’s  our  job  to  let  everything 
out.” 

“That,  my  friends,  is  why  we’re  all  here,”  Meisner  says. 


MORE  ON  PREPARATION:  “QUICK  AS  FLAME" 


117 


“What  play  is  this?”  Meisner  asks  Joseph  and  Bette. 

“ All  Summer  Long,  ”  Joseph  replies. 

“What  happens  before  this  scene  begins?” 

“Our  little  brother  has  seen  two  dogs  mating  and  Bette  has  told 
him  the  facts  of  life.” 

“Such  as?”  Meisner  asks. 

“What  mating’s  all  about,”  Joseph  says.  “And  I’ve  taken  him 
under  my  wing,  trying  to  educate  him  about  life  and  the  world — ” 

“You  see  how  intellectual  this  talking  is?”  Meisner  says,  inter¬ 
rupting  Joseph.  “It’s  very  logical.  What  if  I  said  to  you,  ‘That 
bitch  of  a  sister  of  mine,  who  hates  sex,  saw  two  dogs  mating  and 
pointed  out  to  my  little  innocent  brother — innocent! — how  dirty 
it  was!  I  could  kill  her!’  What’s  the  difference?” 

“You’re  talking  about  the  difference  between  emotion  and 
what  you  said  was  logical.” 

“So  when  you  come  in  to  talk  to  her,  are  you  logical?” 

“No,  I’m  emotional.” 

“In  other  words,  you’re  in  a  rage,  and  that’s  your  preparation. 
Can  you  see  anything  in  what  she  told  your  brother  that  is  mor¬ 
ally  sickening?”  Meisner  asks,  and  Joseph  looks  confused.  “If 
somebody  you  love  is  an  observer  of  a  natural  process  which  is 
a  part  of  life,  and  is  frightened  to  death  because  he’s  told  it’s 
filthy,  immoral,  dirty,  it  could  have  a  very  bad  effect  on  him, 
couldn’t  it?” 

“Yes.” 

“Well,  that’s  what  she  did.  She’s  neurotic,  right?  She  hates  sex. 
Why  do  you  hate  sex,  Bette?”  Meisner  asks. 

Bette,  who  is  four  months  pregnant  and  very  large,  bites  her 
lip  but  doesn’t  reply. 

“She  can’t  imagine  hating  sex,”  Meisner  says,  and  the  class 
laughs.  “That’s  a  character  element.  This  is  a  character  part  for 
you  in  the  sense  that  the  attitude  of  this  girl  toward  sex  is  alien 
to  you.” 

“I’m  trying  to  find  a  way  to  put  it  without  intellectualizing  it,” 
Bette  says. 

“Well,  why  don’t  you  emotionalize  it?  All  you  have  to  know 
is  that  two  dirty  dogs  fucking  in  public  disgusts  you.  It’s  disgust- 


“  d  tl!  any,b°,dy  Wh°  dlsaSrees  with  you  can  go  sit  on  a  tack- 
and  that  includes  your  dumb  brother!” 

“That’s  her  point  of  view,”  Joseph  says.  ‘‘It’s  not  mine.” 

What  s  yours? 

sexyshdirty^’deStr°yed  ^  y°Unger  br°ther  by  tellinS  him  that 

“What  did  the  kid  do2” 

“He  ran  away.” 

“Isn’t  that  pathetic?” 

John  nods.  Meisner  turns  to  Bette. 

“How  do  you  feel  about  the  fact  that  he  ran  away2” 

feeling  guilty' ‘ T”  ^  had  61thy  tho“f=hts  =  be 

“To  hell  with  him!” 

Yes!  He  deserves  it.  He  should  have  run  away1” 

Are  you  glad  you  did  it?” 

“Yes.” 

“Are  you  maliciously  glad2” 

“Yes.” 

To  prepare,  just  sit  down  and  tell  yourself  all  of  the  things 
you  hate  most  in  the  world.”  Meisner  pauses.  “Is  this  beginning 

I  /rtt.’’enSe  ^  y°U?  Preparatl0n  1S  the  worst  P^blem  in  acting 

So  do  I,”  Anna  says. 

“You  hate  it?  Why?” 

,fTbe  fr.UStratl0n  1  feel  in  to  find  something  that  will  ):] 

self-st, mulate  me  is  fantastic.  Then,  when  I  finally  do  get  some-  ? 

mg,  I  lose  it  unless  it’s  very  strong  and  very  deeply  rooted 
Unless  it  s  strong  enough  to  overcome  the  inhibition  and  shyness 
and  self-consciousness,  it  disappears.” 

‘‘Well,  play  with  it.  Little  by  little  you’ll  get  ,t.” 

Sandy  ’  Joseph  asks,  “how  do  you  know  if  you’re  in  the  right 
ball  park  for  your  preparation  if  you  don’t  watch  it?” 

et  the  director  tell  you,  because  if  you  watch  yourself  A 
you  never  get  there.”  He  pauses  for  a  moment.  “Self-stim-  i 
ulation.  Ambition  or  sex.  You  know  what  sex  is?”  he  asks  * 


119 


MORE  ON  PREPARATION:  “QUICK  AS  FLAME" 

“Filthy!”  she  exclaims.  “Disgusting!” 

“Right!”  Meisner  says,  and  the  class  laughs.  “Ambition  or 
sex.  That’s  according  to  Dr.  Freud,  and  I  believe  it.  Let’s  as¬ 
sume  that  you’re  in  a  realistic  play  about  economically  very 
modest  people.  You’re  playing  the  part  of  a  clerk  in  a  store 
wrapping  packages  who  gets  a  promotion  to  become  the  over¬ 
seer  of  the  entire  wrapping  department,  and  gets  five  dollars 
more  a  week  as  a  raise.  Now,  to  the  actor  playing  that  part, 
according  to  the  play,  that  five  bucks  is  ecstasy!  And  this  actor 
knows  that  to  get  there  all  he  has  to  do  is  to  sing  to  himself  the 
‘Ode  to  Joy’  from  Beethoven’s  Ninth  Symphony.  It’s  gigantic, 
and  when  he  sings  it,  it  lifts  him  off  his  feet!  That’s  one  of  the 
choices  he  can  make  in  order  to  induce  in  himself  the  transcen¬ 
dent  happiness  of  the  little  shlemiel  who  got  a  five-dollar  raise. 
The  worst  thing  he  could  do  is  to  try  to  imagine  what  he  can  do 
with  the  five  dollars.  That’s  ridiculous,  because  we  all  know 
only  too  well  what  you  can  do  with  five  dollars  now.  So  the  less 
realistic,  the  more  fantastic  a  way  you  can  charm  yourself,  the 
more  valid  your  happiness  seems,  and  the  more  important  the 
five  dollars  become.  The  guy  with  the  five-dollar  raise  comes  in 
and  is  jumping  with  joy,  but  it  may  actually  have  come  from 
the  fact  that  some  girl  has  said,  ‘Okay,  I’ll  go  out  with  you  to¬ 
morrow  night.’  ” 

He  nods  to  Bette  and  Joseph  and  they  return  to  their  chairs. 
Because  of  her  size,  she  lowers  herself  into  the  chair  very  slowly. 
“How  long  are  you  going  to  be  able  to  stay  in  this  class?”  Meisner 
asks. 

“Right  through,”  Bette  replies.  “I’m  not  due  until  July,  though 
I  know  it  doesn’t  look  that  way.”  She  laughs.  “Did  you  hear  what 
Ralph  said  to  me?” 

“No.” 

“Ralph,  tell  Sandy  what  you  said.” 

Ralph  smiles  and  then  sings  the  theme  used  at  the  Miss  Amer¬ 
ica  pageant:  “Here  she  comes — North  America!” 

The  class  laughs. 


February  23 

I  think  one  of  the  problems  that  you  all  have  with  preparation,” 
Meisner  says,  “is  that  you  try  to  make  it  too  big.  It  isn’t  enough 
to  be  in  good  spirits;  you  have  to  be  hysterical  with  pleasure. 
That  s  too  much.  One  of  the  things  about  emotion  is  that  it  has 
a  way  of  coloring  your  behavior  and  that  you  can’t  hide  it.  You 
simply  can’t  hide  it.” 

He  pauses  for  a  moment  before  slowly  standing  to  face  the 
class.  “What’s  my  mood  now  as  I  am  talking  to  you?”  he  asks. 

“Serious,”  Bette  says. 

“Concerned,”  Joseph  adds. 

One  of  those  would  do.  I  think  you’re  making  a  problem  out 
of  stimulating  in  yourself  too  big  an  emotion.  If  you’re  in  good 
spirits,  that  doesn’t  mean  you’re  hysterical;  if  you’re  depressed, 
that  doesn  t  mean  you’re  funereal.  You  say  that  right  now  I’m 
thoughtful,  concerned.  But  I’m  also  very  depressed.  Now,  that 
comes  from  my  day  at  home-sweet-home,  from  my  personal  life. 
It’s  possible  to  have  a  day  at  home-sweet-home  when  you  want 
to  kill  yourself.  That’s  what’s  affecting  me  now,  and  if  my  part¬ 
ner  in  a  scene  said  to  me,  ‘How  do  you  feel  today?’  I’d  say  quietly, 
‘Lousy.’  That’s  perfectly  acceptable.  I  don’t  have  to  take  a  pistol 
out  and  shoot  myself  or  writhe  on  the  floor. 

There  s  another  thing  you  have  to  realize  about  emotion.  You 
can’t  hide  it.  You  can  mask  it,  but  you  can’t  hide  it.  All  I’m  trying 
to  say  is  that’s  it’s  fairly  easy  to  put  yourself  in  a  state  of  good 
spirits.  That  s  not  so  difficult,  you  know?  But  if  you  feel  you  have 
to  have  ten  thousand  pounds’  worth  of  good  spirits,  then  you  tret 
in  trouble.”  ,  •  | 

Meisner  returns  to  his  desk  and  sits.  “A  couple  of  classes  ago  .'_j, 
you  were  all  here — Joseph  Morgan  did  an  exercise  with  Ra-  | 
chael.  There  was  no  doubt  that  he  was  depressed.  The  way  he  lay  1 
his  head  against  her  shoulder— it  was  as  if  his  heart  had  broken.  | 
You  played  a  dirty  trick  on  someone  and  it  hurt  your  conscience  3 
right,  Joe?”  ’  h 

“Right.” 

“My  point  is  that  his  acting  was  emotionally  clear.  But  had  this  I 
been  a  play  and  not  an  exercise,  on  some  nights  during  its  run  |§ 


121 


MORE  ON  PREPARATION:  “QUICK  AS  FLAME" 

it  could  be  fuller,  and  on  some  nights  it  could  be  emptier.  But  if 
he  attempted  a  herculean  preparation  to  work  himself  up  into  the 
lowest  depths  of  misery,  the  audience  would  all  be  as  old  as  I  am 
by  the  time  he  finally  made  his  entrance.  Do  you  understand? 

“You  cannot  hide  emotion,  but  you  don’t  need  three  tons  of  it 
in  order  to  color  your  behavior  properly.  It’s  just  that  you  must 
not  be  empty.  See,  I  maintain,  and  will  continue  to  maintain,  that 
Laurence  Olivier  is  not  a  great  actor.  Did  you  see  The  Entertainer ? 
In  that  play  he  needed  to  master  the  characteristics  of  a  vaudevil- 
lian — the  speech  and  manner,  the  sleaze  of  that  office  building  at 
Broadway  and  Forty-seventh  Street  where  all  the  vaudevillians 
hang  out.  He  did  it  very  well  because  he’s  a  good  actor  and  a 
thoughtful  one,  and  if  he  decides  to  do  this” — he  sticks  his  thumb 
in  his  ear— “he  gets  a  laugh!  But  when  it  came  to  the  emotion  of 
the  part,  there  was  nothing.  There  were  two  scenes  in  that  play 
where  he  had  to  break  down,  and  it’was  pathetic  how  empty  his 
emotion  was.”  He  holds  his  hand  to  his  face  and  skillfully  indi¬ 
cates  how  Olivier  indicated  sobbing. 

“In  the  nineteenth  century,  there  was  a  great  English  drama 
critic,  William  Hazlitt.  He  said  of  the  great  English  actor  Ed¬ 
mund  Kean,  that  watching  his  emotion  subside  after  a  big  scene 
from  Shakespeare  was  like  watching  the  tide  go  but.  You  follow? 
Mrs.  Siddons,  another  great  actress,  was  so  strong  as  Lady 
Macbeth  that  women  in  the  audience  were  terrified  and  would 
run  out  of  the  theater.  Nobody  has  ever  fled  because  of  an  emo¬ 
tional  moment  from  Olivier,  and  unless  you  have  that,  you’re  not 
a  great  actor.” 

Meisner  pauses  to  adjust  the  microphone.  “But  the  emotion  of 
Kean  and  Mrs.  Siddons  did  not,  I  think,  come  from  preparation. 
Preparation  is  what  you  start  with.  Preparation  is  to  acting  what 
warming  up  the  motor  is  to  driving  a  car  on  a  cold  day.  Could 
anything  be  simpler?  Do  you  understand  what  I’m  talking 
about?” 

He  scans  the  faces  of  the  class.  “Ray,  you  don’t?” 

“I  think  so,”  Ray  says.  “But  on  the  one  hand  you  explain  how 
simple  preparation  is,  and  on  the  other  you  talk  about  great 
actors  in  a  way  that  sounds  like  they  have  tons  of  emotion.” 

“But  their  emotion  arises  from  the  given  circumstances  of 


the  play,  the  situation  they  imagine  themselves  to  be  in.” 

“It’s  not  necessarily  something  they  bring  on  with  them?” 

“No.  When  Kean  played  Othello  and  found  out  his  wife  was 
unfaithful  to  him,  it  was  his  talent  that  made  that  scene  look  as 
if  he’d  had  an  epileptic  fit.  That’s  talent;  you  can’t  do  anything 
about  that.  I  say  occasionally — not  too  often — that  someone  is  a 
‘talented  actor.’  I  see  things.  All  I’m  saying  is:  Don’t  be  empty  or 
you’ll  turn  into  Laurence  Olivier.” 

The  class  laughs. 


February  27 

“Let’s  talk  about  this,”  Meisner  says.  “Ralph,  you  have  an  emo¬ 
tional  block  about  this  scene.” 

“I  guess  I  do,”  Ralph  says  with  a  plaintive  sigh.  He  sits  on  the 
edge  of  the  bed.  “I  feel  very  self-conscious  and  I  have  real  diffi¬ 
culty  getting  a  hold  on  it.  It’s  like  mercury.  I  tried  to  practice 
preparation  all  week,  and  every  time  I  tried  to  induce  this  emo¬ 
tion  it  just  didn’t  work.”  ' 

“Ralph,  in  this  scene  your  girl  is  sleeping  with  Joe  Schmidt. 
The  mystery  is  why  you  don’t  blow  up  right  away.  I  don’t  under¬ 
stand  that.” 

“That’s  the  thing.  For  some  reason  I  can’t  get  pissed  off  here. 
Sometimes  I’m  walking  down  the  street  and  involuntarily  think 
of  some  guy  I  hate,  and  I  want  to  punch  him  in  the  head.  Then 
I  try  consciously  to  do  it  here  and  it  doesn’t  happen.” 

“You  have  to  be  more  open  to  suggestion.” 

“You  know  what  it  is?  You  told  me  once  that  I  always  have  to 
be  the  champ.  I  try  to  be  good  all  the  time.  I  was  trying  to  give 
the  best  performance  instead  of  concentrating  on  my  partner  and 
the  emotional  circumstances  of  the  scene.” 

“What  do  your  eighteen  analysts  say  about  your  difficulty?” 
Meisner  asks. 

“There  are  twenty  of  them,  every  one  of  them  is  baffled,” 
Ralph  says.  “Actually,  you  know  what  they  say?  They  say, 
‘You’re  afraid  to  be  angry,  aren’t  you?’  I  used  to  have  a  violent 
temper  when  I  was  a  little  kid.” 


MORE  ON  PREPARATION:  “QUICK  AS  FLAME” 


123 


“Get  it  back,”  Meisner  says  and  the  class  laughs.  “Seriously, 
Ralph,  I  think  you’re  right,”  he  continues.,  “Your  problem  arises 
from  trying  too  hard  to  be  good.  It’s  understandable,  but  there’s 
a  danger  in  trying  too  hard  to  be  good.  That’s  why  the  rookie 
ballplayer  strikes  out  and  the  intern  gets  slapped  with  a  malprac¬ 
tice  suit.” 


March  1 

“What  are  you  doing,  Ralph?  This  is  no  good,  you  know?” 
Meisner  interrupts  the  exercise  which  Ralph  and  Rachael  began 
only  a  few  minutes  ago. 

“Well,  last  night  I  met  the  Penthouse  magazine  ‘Pet  of  the 
Month’  at  a  bar,  and  I  had  her  laughing  all  night,”  Ralph  says 
nervously.  He  holds  a  notebook  and  a  pencil  in  his  hands.  “I  told 
her  I’d  write  her  a  funny  poem  about  how  to  go  from  being  a 
fold-out  to  real  life—” 

“The  difficulty  in  that  is  that  your  imagination  is  without 
reality.  That’s  one  problem,  which  I’ll  discuss  later.  Another  is 
that  you’re  forcing  all  sorts  of  dialogue  to  happen  so  that  you’ll 
feel  you’re  continuously  active.  You  keep  talking,  keep  relating 
to  her  not  on  the  basis  of  what  she’s  doing,  but  in  order  to 
perform.  I  don’t  know  how  to  make  this  clearer  to  you.” 

“I  understand.  I  felt  that  I  was  performing  too.  I  was  forcing 
it.” 

“Why  do  you  do  it?” 

“I  don’t  know.  It  comes  down  to  the  old  thing,  I  guess:  wanting 
to  be  the  champ.” 

“Exhibitionism,”  Meisner  says.  “That’s  not  necessarily  bad.  As 
an  actor,  you  must  have  a  certain  amount  of  exhibitionism.” 

“Do  you  want  me  to  say  what  that  means  to  me?  It  means  that 
I’m  trying  to  show  off.” 

“That’s  right.  What’s  the  best  way  to  act  well?” 

“The  best  way  to  act  well  is  to  live  truthfully,  and  don’t  create 
a  phony  situation.” 

“Why  do  I  have  to  ask  you  when  you  already  know  this?” 

“Because  my  natural  tendency  seems  to  come  out.” 


124 

“Your  unnatural  tendency.” 

:  “Okay,  my  unnatural  tendency.  I  was  thinking  about  the 
preparation,  and  I  guess  I  planned  it  too  much.  I  was  wanting  to 
be  good,  instead  of  just — ” 

“Ralph;  did  you  ever  hear  that  phrase  ‘Don’t  do  something 
until  something  happens  .  .  ” 

“  ‘.  .  .  to  make  you  do  it,’  ”  Ralph  says. 

“Right.  What’s  that  mean?” 

“It  means  that  I  shouldn’t  have  done  anything  to  fill  the  gaps.” 

“That’s  right,”  Meisner  says.  “Who  do  you  want  to  be,  Milton 
Berle?” 

■  “No.”  . 

“Thank  God!” 

“Though  I  guess  somewhere  inside  I  do,”  Ralph  says,  and  the 
class  laughs. 

“The  funniest  thing — not  the  funniest,  I’ve  heard  funnier — 
but  the  thing  about  you — I  was  thinking  about  it — is  that  I  said 
something  to  you  one  day  in  class,  and  ever  since  then  you’ve 
gone  off  balance.  What  was  it  I  said?” 

“Something  about  the  fact  that  I’m  blocked.  I  remember  I 
couldn’t  get  angry  in  a  scene,  couldn’t  prepare  for  it.  I  think  that 
ever  since  then  I’ve  taken  it  to  mean  that  I  couldn’t  prepare  at 
all,  and  so  I’ve  been  trying  to  prove  that  I  could.” 

“I  never  said  that.” 

“I  know  you  never  said  that.  It  was  my,  you  know  .  .  .” 

“I  liked  your  entrance  very  much.  You  came  in  singing.  But 
if  Rachael  hadn’t  been  there  it  probably  would  have  been  better. 
Why  do  I  say  that?”  ' 

“Because  I  wouldn’t  have  felt  the  imperative  to  push  anything. 
I  would  have  had  to  do  what  I  had  to  do — namely,  write  that 
funny  poem — and  not  try  to  prove  in  neon  lights  that  I  can  work 
off  the  other  person.” 

“What  should  I  do  with  you?  You  answer  everything  intelli¬ 
gently.  Do  you  mind  being  a  little  stupid  next  time  and  simply 
react  to  the  simple  things  you  get  from  your  partner?  You  can’t 
play  Hamlet  every  day.  Ever  since  I  told  you  that,  you’ve  had  a 
problem. 

“Well — that’s — ”  Ralph  stammers. 


125 


MORE  ON  PREPARATION:  "QUICK  AS  FLAME" 

“That’s  right.  It’s  my  fault.” 

“That’s  okay,”  Ralph  says,  and  the  class  laughs. 

“Every  actor  is  an  exhibitionist.  If  you’re  not  an  exhibitionist, 
you’re  no  actor.  But  to  be  a  good  actor  .  .  .”  He  pauses.  “Ralph, 
you  see  what’s  happening  here,  don’t  you?” 

“Yes,  I  do.” 


March  5 

Ralph  enters  the  room,  where  Rachael  sits  at  a  table  writing  a 
letter.  Francois  Truffaut’s  book  Hitchcock  is  open  beside  her. 
Without  acknowledging  her  presence,  Ralph  crosses  to  the  bed, 
sits  on  the  edge,  opens  a  spiral  notebook  and  begins  to  write. 
They  continue  to  write  for  what  seems  a  very  long  time. 

“What  is  this,”  Meisner  asks,  interrupting  the  silence,  “the 
New  York  Public  Library?  Don’t  you  have  a  relationship?” 

“We’re  cousins,”  Rachael  says,  looking  up  from  her  letter. 

“That’s  no  relationship.” 

“We  share  a  house  together.” 

“What  brings  you  together  so  that  you  share  a  house?” 

“We’re  like  brother  and  sister.  We  grew  up  together  and  we 
share  this  house.” 

“Look,”  Meisner  says.  “In  the  first  moment  there’s  got  to  be 
at  least  one  circumstance  that  brings  you  together.  I  don’t  care 
if  it’s  that  he  told  your  parents  that  you’re  living  with  a  Russian 
spy.  That’s  the  root  of  a  relationship.  At  least  it  justifies  with 
theatrical  reality  that  when  he  walks  in — ” 

“I  react  to  him.” 

“Yes,  you  might  even  say,  ‘Hello,  Shit  Face.’  But  there  was 
nothing  here.  Do  you  follow?” 

“I  follow,”  Ralph  says  mournfully. 

“Or,  if  you  used  only  what  exists,  you  might  pick  up  from  his 
withdrawn  silence  that  he’s  notoriously  antisocial.  You  might 
even  say,  ‘The  cat  got  your  tongue?’  And  what  you  don’t  know 
is  that  he  hates  cats,  so  his  reply  might  be,  ‘If  you  mention  cats 
to  me  once  more,  I’ll  knock  your  teeth  out!’  What  does  it  mean 
to  use  what  exists,  Ralph?” 


“To  let  what’s  happening  affect  you.” 

“At  least  to  be  aware  of  it,  right?  What  happened  when  you 
came  in?”  ■ 

“Nothing.  She  just  sat  there  with  her  back  to  me.” 

“That  s  not  nothing.  That’s  something.  What’s  that  mean?” 

“No  response  is  a  response.” 

“  There’s  no  such  thing  as  nothing.” 

“I  didn’t  want  to  force  something.  I  guess  I  didn’t  want  to 
make  the  mistake  I  did  last  time,”  Ralph  says. 

“Forget  your  past!” 

“I  just  felt  like  .  .  .  It’s  frustrating,  that’s  all.” 

“You’re  a  little  self-conscious,  aren’t  you?  You  want  to  be  right, 
don’t  you?” 

“Yeah.”  . 

“Who  doesn’t?  ‘There’s  no  such  thing  as  nothing.’  Rachael, 
what  does  that  mean?” 

“There  is  always  something  even  if  it’s  silence.” 

“Even  though  it’s  nothing.”  , 

“Yeah.”  ' 

Meisner  pauses  while  deciding  how  to  continue.  Finally  he 
says,  “Ralph,  go  out  and  come  in  again.  Leave  your  notebook  here 
on  the  table.  You  can  come  in  and  find  it.  Where  are  you  coming 
from?” 

“From  work.” 

“That’s  meaningless.” 

“I  had  a  very  bad  time  at  work — ” 

“Why  did  you  have  a  bad  time?” 

“I1  was  asked  to  take  out  the  garbage,  and  I  wasn’t  hired  for 
that.” 

“How  do  you  feel  about  that?” 

“Pissed  off.  I  want  to  quit.  I  want  to  write  a  letter  of  resigna¬ 
tion.” 

“Does  that  mean  angry?” 

“It  means  angry.” 

“So  you’re  coming  home  from  work  after  having  been  humil¬ 
iated.  Let  me  see  you  do  that.  Take  your  coat  with  you  and  spend 
some  time  preparing.” 

Ralph  leaves,  closing  the  door.  Meisner  signals  to  Rachael  to 


127 


MORE  ON  PREPARATION:  "QUICK  AS  FLAME" 

give  him  Ralph’s  notebook,  which  he  hides  in  a  drawer  in  his 
desk.  Then  he  asks  Rachael,  “What  are  you  doing?”  . 

“I’m  writing  a  letter  to  someone  I  want  to  seduce,  and  he 
knows  a  lot  about  Alfred  Hitchcock.” 

“You  want  to  be  seduced?” 

“I  want  to  seduce  someone.” 

“Alfred  Hitchcock?” 

“No,  the  person  I  want  to  seduce  loves  the  work  of  Alfred 
Hitchcock,  and  I’m  trying  to  compose  a  letter  thanking  him  for 
lunch  which  contains  all  sorts  of  references  to  Hitchcock  films.” 

“Okay,”  Meisner  says.  “Don’t  tell  Ralph  that  I’ve  got  his  note¬ 
book.” 

Ralph  enters  the  room,  closes  the  door  quietly  and  stands  still 
for  a  moment  before  taking  off  his  coat.  He  is  visibly  upset,  and 
slams  his  coat  onto  the  bed  before  crossing  to  the  table,  where  he 
remembers  leaving  his  notebook.  Its  absence  is  a  genuine  sur¬ 
prise  to  him,  and  the  resulting  exercise,  though  brief,  has  vitality. 

“All  right,”  Meisner  says  after  a  few  minutes.  “Now  tell  me, 
what  did  I  do?  Not  what  did  you  do,  but  what  did  I  do?” 

“You  made  something  happen,”  Ralph  says.  “You  made  me 
want  something.  You  created  a  need  and  made  it  impossible  for 
me  to — ” 

“I  made  it  more  alive,”  Meisner  says.  “Right?  How  did  I  do 
that?”  . 

“You  gave  me  something  to  do.” 

“I  made  you  come  from  something  that  had  happened,  right?” 

“Right.  You  made  it  more  specific.” 

“And  what  happened  because  of  that?” 

“The  scene  came  more  alive.  It  got  on  the  edge  of  something 
more  important.” 

“It  came  to  life.  Were  you  working  off  each  other?” 

“Yes.” 

“Ralph,  what  I  did  to  you — and  this  is  no  disgrace,  quite  the 
contrary — was  to  pull  you  back  almost  to  the  beginning.  Why  did 
I  do  that?”  , 

“Because  I  got  lost.” 

“So  I  gave  you  a  compass.” 

“Right.” 


“And  that’s  where  you’re  going  to  stay  until  I  feel  that  ynu’re 
strong  in  yourself  again.  It  won’t  last  long— one  or  two  weeks.”, 

Ralph  nods,  and  he  and  Rachael  return  to  their  seats. 

Meisner  pauses  for  a  moment  before  turning  to  the  class.  “The 
principle  is  ‘Don’t  do  anything  until  something  happens  to  make 
you  do  it.’  In  this  exercise  Ralph  came  in  from  having  an  alterca¬ 
tion  at  work;  he  wouldn’t  empty  the  garbage.  The  boss  was  nasty, 
and  he  came  in  to  write  a  letter  of  resignation.  The  first  time  he 
had  no  preparation.  He  came  in,  went  right  to  the  pad  on  the 
table,  wrote  his  resignation,  and  it  was  as  if  we  were  in  the  public 
library.  The  second  time  he  had  his  anger,  which  had  to  be 
prepared  for,  and  it  was  good!” 

Ralph  grins  shyly. 

“Don’t  come  in  from  nowhere,”  Meisner  continues.  “Come  in 
from  some  situation  which  has  a  circumstance  in  it  that  gives  you 
a  foothold  for  a  preparation.  You  follow?  There  was  nothing 
wrong  with  Ralph  as  an  actor  at  the  beginning  of  this  class  last 
fall,  before  he  started  learning  with  a  capital  L.  Then,  for  one 
reason  or  another,  he  got  sick.  What  did  I  have  to  do?  I  had  to  give 
him  an  inoculation.  What  was/the  inoculation?  No  acting ,  please. 
Ralph,  that  was  good.  Very  simple,  but  you  were  working  off 
each  other.  What’s  wrong  with  that?  It  was  good.” 

Ralph  sighs  with  relief. 

“Don’t  be  an  actor,”  Meisner  says.  “Be  a  human  being  who 
works  off  what  exists  under  imaginary  circumstances.  Don’t  give 
a  performance.  Let  the  performance  give  you.” 


March  8 


“Wait  a  minute.  I  assume  that  you  know  all  the  lines.” 

“I’m  really  shaky  on  my  last  speech  before  the  end,”  Ralph 
says. 

“I’m  shaky  on  my  life,”  Meisner  says  and  the  class  laughs. 
“Look,  have  you  got  anything  here  that  you  can  use  as  an  inde¬ 
pendent  activity?” 

“Yes.  I  could  write  a  letter.” 

“An  important  letter.  Get  your  pen  and  paper.  And  you,  Ra-  ?| 


gpORE  ON  PREPARATION:  “QUICK  AS  -FLAME"  -(29 

if: 

(|  chael,  straighten  up  the  room  so  that  it’s  as  neat  as  it  possibly  can 
H  be  while  you  say  the  lines.” 

C  :  “Should  we  do  the  lines  mechanically?”  Rachael  asks. 

No.  As  he  concentrates  on  writing  his  important  letter  and 
you  concentrate  on  fixing  up  the  room,  adjust  to  each  other.” 

She  nods  and  they  begin.  Ralph  sits  at  the  table  and  begins  to 
write  his  letter  and  Rachael  straightens  the  books  piled  onto  the 
bookcase.  The  words  of  their  lines  are  actively  filtered  through 
|  his  concentrated  struggle  to  write  a  difficult  letter  and  her  deter¬ 
mined  efforts  to  straighten  up  the  cluttered  room. 

After  a  few  minutes  Meisner  interrupts  the  scene.  “Okay,  I 
want  to  play  with  this.  The  color  of  that  text,  the  way  it  came 
out  of  you,  depended  on  what  you  were  physically  doing  at  the 
moment:  organizing  the  books,  making  the  bed,  writing  the  let¬ 
ter.  Now  let’s  try  something  new.  In  this  case  the  organic— a  big 
word  color  of  the  text  will  depend  on  what’s  going  on  inside  of 
you  emotionally.  In  this  scene,  Rachael,  the  father  whom  you 
love  is  about  to  commit  suicide;  he’s  ill,  it’s  terminal,  it’s  painful. 
And  you,  Ralph,  are  her  rich,  playboy  brother  from  Southamp¬ 
ton.  Your  sister  has  telephoned  you,  and  you’ve  just  jumped  into 
your  Jaguar  to  rush  over  to  East  Hampton  where  she  lives.  To 
begin  with,  your  dominant  emotional  color  is  your  irrepressible 
good  humor.  Then  it  will  change  by  itself,  just  as  the  color  of  the 
text  changed  depending  on  whether  you  were  reshelving  the 
books  or  making  the  bed  or  what  you  were  writing  in  that  letter. 
The  color  changed  depending  on  what  you  were  doing  at  that 
particular  moment,  right?” 

They  both  nod  in  agreement. 

So  Rachael,  you  11  start  off  with  a  preparation,  an  inner  emo¬ 
tional  state— no  more  fixing  books.  When  you  enter,  it’s  as  if  you 
were  coming  from  your  father’s  sickbed,  where  the  doctor  has 
told  you  about  his  depression.  Emotionally,  the  key  is  that  you 
love  your  father.  But  the  key  to  your  inner  life,  Ralph,  is  that 
you’re  playing  the  female  lead  in  the  Southampton  Country  Club 
production  of  The  Merry  Widow.  Why  do  I  say  that  to  you?” 

Because  it’s  funny.  It’s  a  light  and  humorous  thing  to  do.” 

“Do  you  remember  what  I  said  to  you  a  week  or  so  ago  about 
the  river  and  the  canoe  floating  on  it?  Rachel,  earlier,  the  river 


V 


130 

for  you  was  getting  the  room  organized.  Ralph,  the 
was  your  writing  the  letter.  Now  we’re  advancing.  The 
inner;  for  you,  Rachael,  it  revolves  around  the  fact  that 
father  is  dying.  For  you,  Ralph,  the  river  is  that  you’re  the 
of  The  Merry  Widow.  Now,  each  river  is  going  to  have  many 
of  currents  as  it  moves  along.  Do  you  understand?” 

“Yes,”  they  both  say. 

“Fine.  Don’t  try  to  do  the  whole  thing.  Do  as  much  as  you  can 
do  securely  for  next  time,”  Meisner  says,  “on  Monday.” 


March  12 

Joseph  and  Anna  quietly  read  their  scene  from  The  Girl  on  the  Via 
Flaminia  by  Alfred  Hayes. 

Meisner  interrupts.  “Listen  to  me  carefully.  Anna,  here’s  a  girl 
who  comes  from  a  very  respectable  middle-class  family.  She’s 
decent,  sensitive  and  well  educated— a  superior  girl.  In  the  war 
she  and  her  family  were  starving.  Things  were  terrible  in  Italy 
during  the  war.  So  what  does  this  eminently  superior  girl  do?  She 
deliberately  goes  with  an  American  soldier  because  the  Ameri¬ 
cans  are  rich  and  have  everything.  But  it’s  interesting;  she  doesn’t 
pick  a  bum,  she  picks  someone  who  in  his  own  way  is  as  superior 
as  she  is.  Then  the  police  come,  and  this  sensitive  girl  is  arrested 
and  tagged;  she’s  registered  as  a  common  prostitute.  For  her  this 
is  total  demolishment.  When  she  comes  into  the  room  she’s  abso¬ 
lutely  destroyed.  That’s  the  background  for  her  emotion.” 

“Does  the  family  know?”  Anna  asks. 

“No.  But  the  family  downstairs  knows  because  they  tell  the 
soldier.  Now,  Joseph,  you  find  out  before  you  come  upstairs 
what’s  happened  to  her,  and  whether  you  like  it  or  not,  you’re 
the  cause.”  . 

“Of  her  being  tagged  a  prostitute?” 

“Right!  So  you  feel  all  her  humiliation  and  degradation  too, 
because  of  what  you  did  to  her  without  meaning  to.  Do  you 
follow?” 

“Yeah.”  '  ■ 


“Anna,  I  can  give  you  one  thing.  Next  time  get  against  a  wall, 
A  break  down  and  try  to  disappear  into  that  wall  like  a  cockroach! 

Take  the  emotional  part  of  it  very  easy  to  begin  with,  because  you 
;  have  to  read  the  script.  Don’t  try  to  do  the  whole  scene  next  time, 
just  get  it  started  emotionally.  Do  you  understand,  Joseph?” 

-  ”  “When  I  say,  ‘If  there  was  anything  I  could  have  done,  I  would 
have  done  it,’  isn’t  that  where  I  find  out?” 

“No,  they’ve  already  told  you  downstairs.” 

“So  when  I  say  my  first  line,  ‘Would  you  like  some  cognac?,’ 
that’s  the  beginning?  I  start  the  emotion  there?” 

“The  emotion  starts  downstairs.  ‘Would  you  like  some  co¬ 
gnac?’  is  just  a  way  of  trying  to  cheer  her  up.” 

“So  you  want  me  to  come  in  with  a  preparation  and  start  the 
scene  right  there?  ‘Would  you — ’  ” 

“  ‘Would  you  like  some  cognac?’  I  want  you  to  start  the  scene 
emotionally  there.  Any  questions?  Don’t  learn  the  lines;  let  them 
happen.  Improvise,  do  anything  you  want  to  bring  to  life  the 
feeling  of  your  degradation,  Anna,  and  the  feeling  of  your  guilt, 
Joseph.  You  know  what  I  said  about  the  river  and  the  words  like 
the  canoe  that  floats  on  it?  Well,  I  want  you  gradually  to  start  the 
river  flowing.” 


March  15 

Anna  enters,  closes  the  door,  crosses  to  the  bed  against  the  wall 
and  wraps  herself  in  the  dark  green  bedspread.  After  a  few  min¬ 
utes  she  begins  to  sob.  Joseph  enters  and  the  scene  begins.  His 
preparation  is  not  deep  and  quickly  subsides.  He  is  grave,  consid¬ 
erate,  concerned,  but  not  emotional.  Anna  is  excellent;  her  emo¬ 
tion  is  full  and  deeply  affecting.  The  only  impediment  is  her 
insecurity  with  the  lines. 

“Let’s  talk  about  this,”  Meisner  says.  “That  was  a  big  advance 
over  last  time.  Learn  as  many  lines  as  you  can,  because  when  you 
have  to  start  thinking  about  what  the  next  line  is,  it  breaks  the 
flow  of  the  emotion.  Yet  the  problem  here  is  not  how  to  learn  the 
lines;  you  know  how  to  do  that.  The  problem  is  emotional,  and 


132 

you’ve  come  a  good  way  in  finding  that  in  yourself.  Do  you  know 
that?” 

“Yeah,  I  do,”  Anna  says  while  wiping  her  eyes. 

“Joseph,  you  can  go  further,  especially  at  the  beginning.  It’s 
almost  as  if  you  have  to  wait  outside  the  door  in  order  to  get  some 
kind  of  control  over  yourself  so  that  she  doesn’t  see  how  badly 
you  feel.  Do  you  understand?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Look,  if  you  get  fifty  percent  of  this  scene,  you’re  fifty  percent 
ahead  of  yourself.  You  follow?” 

“I  do.” 

“So  I’m  patient,  and  you  should  be  patient.  The  problem  is 
emotional.  It’s  to  bring  yourself  emotionally  to  the  text  so  that, 
as  I  said  before,  that  river — I’m  talking  to  you,  Joseph — starts  to 
flow  with  a  reasonable  degree  of  fullness.  So  if  you  get  fifty 
percent  of  it,  that’s  a  big  advance,  isn’t  it?” 

“Yeah,”  Joseph  says.  He  seems  discouraged. 

“Joseph  Morgan.  I  wonder,”  Meisner  says,  “I  just  wonder 
whether  you  go  far  enough  away  from  the  play  into  yourself  for 
your  preparation.  Do  you  understand?” 

“Yeah,  I  do  make  it  personal,”  Joseph  says.  “But  somehow  it 
takes  a  while  for  me  to  connect ...  I  don’t  know  how  to  talk  about 
it.  Somehow  the  circumstances  have  to  become  real  to  me.” 

“Maybe  you  want  to  make  it  too  personal?” 

“I  don’t  know  about  that.  Usually  at  some  point  something 
kicks  in  and  it  becomes  real  to  me.  My  preparation  was  very 
personal — it  had  to  do  with  my  family — but  if  it  leaves  me,  it 
leaves  me.” 

“Don’t  try  to  get  it  back,”  Meisner  says. 

“I  don’t.  You  know,  I  think  it’s  a  matter  of  time.” 

“I  agree.  Just  because  we  talk  about  it  on  Thursday  doesn’t 
mean  that  you’re  going  to  come  in  all  set  on  the  following  Mon¬ 
day.  It  moves  slowly,  you  see?  The  difference  between  Anna 
today  and  Anna  on  Thursday  was  a  very  real  advance,  and  it  was 
having  its  effect  on  you.  You  follow?”  . 

Joseph  nods  and  Meisner  pauses  for  a  moment. 

“Suppose  that  you  saw — you  can’t  even  remember  when  or 


MORE  ON  PREPARATION:  “QUICK  AS  FLAME" 


133 


where — one  of  those  poor  guys  who  sleep  on  the  street.  Say  you 
saw  him  eat  out  of  a  garbage  pail  and  it  turned  your  stomach. 
That  might  be  just  fine  for  this  scene.  Now  that’s  personal  to  me, 
but  it  springs  from  my  imagination.  The  highly  personal  nature 
of  preparation  does  not  mean  literally  personal.  When  my  father 
died,  we,  the  family,  were  standing  by  the  grave.”  Meisner  stands 
up,  puts  the  voice  transmitter  into  the  right  pocket  of  his  jacket 
and  picks  up  his  cane.  He  walks  around  the  desk  to  face  the  class. 
“While  they  were  lowering  the  coffin,  I  realized  what  I  was  doing 
with  my  foot.  As  the  coffin  was  going  down,  the  foot  was  going 
like  this.”  His  right  shoe  begins  to  shift  on  the  ball  of  his  foot  as 
if  he  were  methodically  grinding  out  a  cigarette  or  crushing  a 
cockroach. 

“Oh,  my  God,”  Anna  says  quietly. 

“You  see!  Look  at  her  reaction!”  he  says,  pointing  to  Anna. 
“Look  at  yours!”  he  says  to  Bette.  “You  were  shocked,  and  she 
was  shocked  in  a  different  way.  Yet  at  that  gravesite,  I  felt  noth¬ 
ing  except  Don't  ever  come  up  again!  Now,  what  could  be  more 
personal  than  that?  Yet  now  it  doesn’t  do  a  thing  for  me,  except 
perhaps  to  make  me  giggle  a  little  bit.  I  tell  you  this  to  point  out 
the  fact  that  you’ll  never  know  how  something  will  affect  you 
emotionally.  If  I  had  any  shame  or  self-respect,  I  wouldn’t  tell 
you  that  story.  But  I  don’t  have.”  • 

As  Meisner  returns  slowly  to  his  desk,  Anna  raises  her  hand. 
“Sandy,  when  you  say  personal— and  you  just  pointed  out  that 
something  can  be  extremely  personal  and  really  not  have  any 
kind  of  deep  emotional  effect  on  you — is  it  also  possible,  as  you 
said  to  Joseph,  that  something  can  be  too  personal?  That  when 
something  is  very  personal  you  want  to  keep  it  private,  and 
therefore  it  inhibits  you  even  though  it  affects  you  very  deeply?” 

“Right!  And  only  you  can  know  the  difference.” 

“When  something  is  personal  and  affecting  but  you  don’t  feel 
the  need  to  keep  it  private?” 

“Yes.  I  told  one  of  my  forty-two  analysts  this  story  about  my 
father,  and  he  was  very  impressed  with  its  meaning.” 

“I’m  sure,”  Anna  says. 


The  other  forty-one  didn’t  say  anything:  They  never  do,  voir' 
know.”  . 

;  ,  J  r 

"  * 

II  ’  :'T::§§ 

Scott  Roberts  enters  Meisner’s  office. 

“Yes,  that’s  the  book,”  Meisner  says.  “I  gave  it  to  the  library  X. 
thirty  years  ago.”  yX 

Scott  hands  him  the  small  red  book,  Sigmund  Freud’s^  General 
Introduction  to  Psychoanalysis,  *  and  Meisner  flips  through  it  for  a 
few  minutes.  “This  is  the  passage  you  asked  me  about,”  he  says, 
finally,  pointing  to  a  page  toward  the  end  of  the  volume.  “It’s 
marvelous.  I  can’t  tell  you  how  much  this  discussion  of  fantasy  y 
helped  me  clarify  my  thoughts  about  the  dreadful  problem  of 
preparation.” 

He  returns  the  book  to  Scott.  “Please,  read  this  aloud,”  he  says. 

“I  can’t  see  well  enough.” 

Scott  clears  his  throat  and  begins  to  read  Freud’s  pioneering 
text:  “Before  you  leave  today,  F  should  like  to  direct  your  at  ten-  I 
tion  for  a  moment  to  a  side  of  fantasy-life  of  very  general  interest. 
There  is,  in  fact,  a  path  from  fantasy  back  again  to  reality,  and 
that  is — art.  The  artist  has  also  an  introverted  disposition  and  has 
not  far  to  go  to  become  neurotic.  He  is  one  who  is  urged  on  by 
instinctual  needs  which  are  too  clamorous;  he  longs  to  attain  to 
honour,  power,  riches,  fame,  and  the  love  of  women;  but  he  lacks 
the  means  of  achieving  these  gratifications.  So,  like  any  other 
with  an  unsatisfied  longing,  he  turns  away  from  reality  and  trans¬ 
fers  all  his  interest,  and  all  his  libido  too,  onto  the  creation  of  his 
wishes  in  the  life  of  fantasy,  from  which  the  way  might  readily 
lead  to  neurosis.  There  must  be  many  factors  in  combination  to 
prevent  this  becoming  the  whole  outcome  of  his  development;  it 
is  well  known  how  often  artists  in  particular  suffer  from  partial 
inhibition  of  their  capacities  through  neurosis.  Probably  their 

“Sigmund  Freud,  A  General  Introduction  to  Psychoanalysis;  trans.  Joan  Riviere 
(New  York:  Pocket  Books,  1953),  384-385. 


§  constitution  is  endowed  with  a  powerful  capacity  for  sublima- 
J  tion  and  with  a  certain  flexibility  in  the  repressions  determining 
the  conflict.  But  the  way  back  to  reality  is  found  by  the  artist 
thus:  He  is  not  the  only  one  who  has  a  life  of  fantasy;  the  interme¬ 
diate  world  of  fantasy  is  sanctioned  by  general  human  consent, 
and  every  hungry  soul  looks  to  it  for  comfort  and  consolation. 
But  to  those  who  are  not  artists  the  gratification  that  can  be 
drawn  from  the  springs  of  fantasy  is  very  limited;  their  inexora¬ 
ble  repressions  prevent  the  enjoyment  of  all  but  the  meager  day¬ 
dreams  which  can  become  conscious.  A  true  artist  has  more  at  his 
disposal.  First  of  all  he  understands  how  to  elaborate  his  day¬ 
dreams,  so  that  they  lose  that  personal  note  which  grates  upon 
strange  ears  and  become  enjoyable  to  others;  he  knows  too  how 
to  modify  them  sufficiently  so  that  their  origin  in  prohibited 
sources  is  not  easily  detected.  Further,  he  possesses  the  mysteri¬ 
ous  ability  to  mould  his  particular  material  until  it  expresses  the 
ideas  of  his  fantasy  faithfully;  and  then  he  knows  how  to  attach 
to  this  reflection  of  his  fantasy-life  so  strong  a  stream  of  pleasure 
that,  for  a  time  at  least,  the  repressions  are  bout-balanced  and 
dispelled  by  it.  When  he  can  do  all  this,  he  opens  out  to  others 
the  way  back  to  the  comfort  and  consolation  of  their  own  con¬ 
scious  sources  of  pleasure,  and  so  reaps  their  gratitude  and  admi¬ 
ration;  then  he  has  won — through  his  fantasy — what  before  he 
could  only  win  in  fantasy:  honour,  power,  and  the  love  of 
women.” 

Roberts  closes  the  book  and  places  it  on  Meisner’s  mahogany 
desk.  •  '  ‘  : 

“Isn’t  that  marvelous?”  Meisner  asks.  “  ‘Then  he  has  won — 
through  his  fantasy  .  .  .  honour,  power,  and  the  love  of  women.’ 
I  just  love  it.” 


The  Magic  As  If:  Particularization 


meisner:  I’m  going  to  tell  you  all  something. 

if  The  text  is  your  greatest  enemy. 

lllll 


April  26 


The  class  begins  with  Bette  and  Beth  performing  the  final  scene 
from  Lillian  Heilman’s  The  Children's  Hour.  At  the  end  of  the 
scene,  Meisner  begins  his  criticism. 

“Acting  in  my  terms,  in  all  our  terms  except  for  the  English 
—the  Americans,  the  Russians,  the  Germans— is  an  emotional 
creation.  It  has  an  inner  content.  Unlike  the  English,  who  know 
intellectually  what  the  character  should  be  feeling  and  indicate 
this  through  the  way  they  verbally  handle  the  text,  we  work  from 
living  truthfully  under  imaginary  circumstances.  Beth,  I’ll  take 
this  very  slowly.  The  play  says  that  the  man  you  love  leaves  you 
because  he  suspects  that  you’re  a  lesbian,  right?” 

“Yes.” 


THE  MAGIC  /IS  IF  PARTICULARIZATION 


137 


“Let’s  say  that  this  doesn’t  mean  anything  to  you  as  a  person. 
You  don’t  know  the  sensation  of  being  a  lesbian,  or  the  experi¬ 
ence  of  it.  It’s  alien  to  you,  but  you  have  to  play  the  part,  right? 

“To  him  a  lesbian  is  an  appalling  pervert,  but  his  accusation 
touches  off  nothing  emotional  in  you.  It’s  just  words  on  paper, 
a  cold  text.  How  do  you  solve,  this  problem?  In  this  case,  let’s  say 
that  this  is  as  if  you  were  accused  of  something  which  is  horrify¬ 
ing  to  you.  Now,  I  don’t  know  what’s  horrifying  to  you,  but  if 
you’re  honest  with  yourself,  you’ll  find  something  in  your  experi¬ 
ence  or  imagination.  What  could  it  be?  It  doesn  t  have  to  be 
sexual.  Let  me  talk  in  a  personal,  yet  imaginative  way,  about 
something  that,  had  it  happened  to  me,  I  would  never  tell  any¬ 
body.  Suppose  that  when  the  actress  playing  this  part  was  five 
years  old,  a  gang  of  four  or  five  local  ruffians  dragged  her  into  a 
deserted  lot  and  ripped  off  her  clothes.  The  horror,  the  disgrace 
of  this  experience  is  still  so  alive  in  her  that  whenever  she  recalls 
it  she  breaks  down.  So  that  might  be  a  useful  preparation  for  the 
opening  of  this  scene,  Beth,  because  what  you’re  doing  now  is 
reading  lines  in  a  kind  of  sad  way,  but  it  has  no  life,  no  emotion.” 

“Yes,”  Beth  says,  “I  felt  that  I  couldn’t  get  the  top  off,  some¬ 
how.” 

“That’s  what  you  prepare  for.  I  can’t  think  of  episodes  or 
incidents  for  you  which  arouse  in  you  terror,  horror,  shame — call 
it  what  you  like.  You  have  to  do  it  by  yourselfi  But  if  it’s  just 
words,  it’s  not  good  enough.  That’s  the  point.  This  phrase,  ‘it’s 
as  iff  is  called  a  ‘particularization’  in  the  pure  terms  used  by 
Stanislavsky. 

Here  Beth  is  required  to  act  a  scene  in  which  her  boyfriend, 
the  man  she  loves — it’s  real  love,  very  rare — leaves  her  because 
he  thinks  she’s  a  lesbian.  If  she  reads  the  lines — and  they’re  just 
lines — ”  Meisner  says  and  then  paraphrases  the  text:  “  ‘He  went 
away.’  ‘Is  he  coming  back  for  dinner?’  ‘No.’  ‘You  mean  he’s 
coming  back  late?’  ‘No,  he’s  not  coming.’  ‘Not  coming  at  all?’ 
‘No.’  ‘Well,’  her  partner  says,  ‘I’ll  just  light  the  burner  under  the 
goulash.’ 

“This  is  where  the  as  if  comes  in.  It’s  pure  Stanislavsky.  It’s 
as  if  she  were  a  five-year-old  kid  and  something  dreadful  hap¬ 
pened  to  her — something  miserable,  something  degrading.  Or  it 


could  be  as  if  she  were  in  a  stare  of  total  shock,  or  as  if  she  wereli 
suddenly  paralyzed  with  fear  or  tension.  In  that  particularization^ 
is  the  preparation.” 

“Sandy,”  Beth  says,  “I  don’t  know  what  my  problem  is,  butt-i 
when  I  sit  at  home  I  can  find  memories  or  fantasies  that  arouse 
certain  emotions  in  me.  But  here,  sometimes  they  work  and  '| 
sometimes  they  don’t.  When  I  was  trying  to  prepare  out  in  the  'J 
hall,  I  felt  that  I  was  trying  to  force  something.  It  wouldn’t  come  if 
and  I  got  nervous,  and  the  more  I  tried  to  force  it,  the  less  it  J§ 
happened.”  .  _  yyl 

“It  didn’t  mean  anything  to  you.”  -  j;| 

“But  when  I  was  by  myself  it  did.”  .  .  y 

“Then  change  the  preparation.  How  many  times  have  you  S 
heard  a  piece  of  music  and  after  about  ten  repetitions  you  say  to  ' 
yourself,  ‘If  I  hear  that  once  more,  I’m  going  to  break  the  record!’ 
Change  it!  That  will  revitalize  your  preparation.” 

He  pauses  to  adjust  the  microphone. 

“But  a  particularization,  an  as,  if,  is  something  else.  It’s  your 
personal  example  chosen  from  your  experience  or  your  imagina¬ 
tion  which  emotionally  clarifies  the  cold  material  of  the  text.” 

“Would  you  say  that  again?”  John  asks. 

“What  did  I  say?”  Meisner  asks  Lila. 

“You  said  it’s  your  own  personal  example  which  clarifies,”  Lila 
says.  “I  didn’t  hear  the  end  of  it.” 

Meisner  says,  “Look,  I’m  going  to  stay  on  this  subject  maybe 
for  the  whole  class.  It’s  about  time  I  did.  What  have  I  said  so  far, 
Ray?” 

“That  when  you  come  up  against  a  text  that’s  cold  to  you, 
which  doesn’t  mean  anything  because  the  circumstances  are  - 
alien  to  you,  you  use  a  particularization — another  way  to  say  that 
is  ‘as  if — to  describe  for  yourself  a  situation  that  would  bring  you 
personally  to  the  emotional  place  you  need  to  be  in  for  the  sake 
of  the  scene.” 

“Don’t  say  ‘describe.’  Say  ‘evolve.’  Bring  to  life  in  you.  Let’s 
take  another  example  from  this  scene,  and  then  we’ll  go  on.  Beth, 
you’re  not  a  lesbian,  are  you?” 

“No,”  Beth  says. 


\G\C  AS  IF:  PARTICULARIZATION 


ifs-“But  you  have  to  say  to  Bette,  ‘He  thinks  we  are.’  What  kind 
Hof  particularization  could  you  think  of  which  would  clarify  the 
way  in  which  you  tell  her  that  your  ex-boyfriend  thinks  you’re 
lovers?” 

:  V  “I  have  two  problems,”  Beth  says.  “One  thing  I  think  of  is  that 
I’m  feeling  sad  because  my  boyfriend  left  me — ” 

“Forget  the  story!” 

“I  guess  I’d  think  that  if  someone  who  really  loved  me  left  me 
because — ” 


“Forget  love!” 

“Well,  if  he  thought  I  was  involved  with  someone  else  sexually, 
and  I  wasn’t,  and  he  was  falsely  accusing  me — ” 

“Forget  sex!  You’ve  got  a  one-track  mind!” 

The  class  laughs. 

“Sex  or  ambition,”  Beth  says.  “Didn’t  you  say  there’s  nothing 
else?”  ■  ■■  . 

“Suppose  it  was  as  if  you  told  her  that  your  boyfriend  thinks 
you  both  take  heroin.  It’s  a  deadly  secret,  isn’t  it?  Or  it’s  as  if  he 
suspects  you  both  have,  prison  records  or  jointly  murdered  an 
illegitimate  child  or  were  practicing  witchcraft.  You  see,  this  is 
an  area  of  acting  which  makes  its  demands  entirely  on  your 
imagination.  Suppose  that  Ralph  and  John  were  cast  as  players 
on  the  same  football  team,  and  suppose  that  in  the  play,  Ralph, 
you’re  hurt  on  the  field  and  are  brought  into  the  locker  room  and 
are  lying  there  unconscious  while  your  team  is  waiting  for  the 
ambulance  to  come.  And  suppose  that  I,  as  the  director,  said  to 
you,  John,  ‘Stand  there  and  watch  him  as  if  he  were  your  wife 
who  is  dying.’  Now,  God  knows  that  has  little  to  do  with  two 
football  players,  but  we,  the  audience,  will  never  know  where 
you  got  your  emotion,  John,  although  we  will  be  responsive  to 
it.  And  if  anybody  says  to  you,  ‘Where  did  you  get  that  moment? 
It’s  very  touching,’ your  answer  is, ‘Buzz  off!’ ” 

“What  the  director  said  to  John  was  just  to  clarify  the  situa¬ 
tion,’.’  Ralph  says.  “It’s  not  a  particularization  he  has  to  keep 
forever,  is  it?” 

“To  clarify  what  part  of  the  situation?”  Meisner  asks. 

“To  clarify  his  feeling  about  what  he’s  watching.” 


* 


140 

“His  emotion.” 

“But  is  there  a  difference  between  what  he  feels  about  my  f 
injury  and  his  emotion?” 

“The  audience  attaches  the  emotion  to  what  he’s  doing.  He’s  ; 
standing  there  watching  you  bleed  to  death,  and  we  see  that  he’s 
very  moved.  But  we  do  not  know  where  his  emotion  is  coming  , ; 
from.”  '.''.i: 

“So  a  particularization  is  similar  to  a  preparation,”  Joseph  says, 
“only  it’s  for  a  specific  moment.” 

“It  has  to  be  chosen,”  Meisner  says. 

“And  it  must  be  personal.” 

“Yes.  And  it’s  worked  on  in  rehearsal.” 

“So  it’s  what  you  do  your  homework  on  and  bring  into  re¬ 
hearsal,”  Joseph  says'. 

“Is  the  particularization  then  a  permanent  part  of  the  perfor¬ 
mance?”  Rose  Marie  asks.  “If  I’m  doing  my  two  hundredth  per¬ 
formance  of  Death  of  a  Salesman—" 

“Oh,  by  that  time  you  may  have  had  fifty  different  prepara¬ 
tions,  but  the  particularizations— the  as  ifs  which  have  been 
worked  out  in  rehearsal  and  are  now  those  elements  that  give 
form  to  your  role — remain  constant.” 

Ray  holds  up  his  hand.  “So  when  you  choose  a  particulariza¬ 
tion,  you  choose  what  the  moment  is  about  emotionally.  How  do 
you  make  those  choices?  Is  that  the  subject  of  a  different  class,  or 
can  we  talk  about  it  now?” 

“They  come  from  your  instincts.” 

“Your  instincts  in  relation  to  that  particular  scene?” 

“Of  course.” 

“As  a  result  of  how  you  either  understand  it  or  misunderstand 
it?”  Ray  asks. 

“Of  course!  Let  me  ask  you  a  question.  Is  there  ever  a  time,  no 
matter  how  many  times  Beth  plays  in  The  Children's  Hour,  when 
that  character  is  not  going  to  have  to  squirm  with  misery  when 
she  announces  that  her  boyfriend  is  never  coming  back?” 

After  a  pause,  Ray  says,  “You  put  me  in  a  spot  because  I  want 
to  say,  ‘No,’  but  at  the  same  time  1  want  to  say  that  an  equally 
valid  reading  would  be  if  she  were  pissed  off  at  the  woman  she 


s  lives  with  because  of  what  has  happened,  and  so  anger  comes  out 
'£<  instead.” 

“Then  it’s  a  mischoice.” 

“Okay,  that’s  what  I’m  asking.  How  do  you  make  the  right 
choice?” 

“Your  instinct!” 

“Also,”  Rose  Marie  says,  “there’s  a  director.” 

“Yes,”  Meisner  says,  “there’s  a  director.  The  director  is  going 
to  let  you  know  what  he  wants  you  to  project  emotionally.  Look, 
Chopin  wrote  a  piece  called  “The  Revolutionary  Etude.”  Every¬ 
body  has  played  it.  Can  it  ever  be  anything  but”— and  he  mimes 
playing  the  triumphant  piece  on  the  top  of  his  desk— “  ‘The 
Revolutionary  Etude’?  Do  you  understand?” 

“I  do,”  Ray  says,  “but  I  want  to  say  that  everybody  who  plays 
it  will  play  it  differently,  and  everyone  who  has  to  get  to  that 
emotion  which  the  director  wants  gets  there  differently,  person¬ 
ally.” 

“Real  pianists  who  play  it  will  play  it  differently,  but  they  will 
all  play  the  same  notes.” 

“Are  you  saying,”  Beth  asks,  “that  if  they  play  the  same  notes, 
the  color  or  emotional  tone  will  be  the  same?” 

“More  or  less,”  Meisner  says.  “Can  you  imagine  a  cheerful 
Hamlet?” 

“No,  I  honestly  can’t.  But  perhaps  this  is  only  my  problem. 
Sometimes  during  the  preparation  I  start  observing  myself  in¬ 
stead  of  simply  doing  it,  and  when  I  start  judging  it,  I  stop  feeling 
it.  Then,  as  in  this  scene,  I  freeze  up.” 

“Look,  this  is  the  tenth  time  you’ve  told  me  that  you  watch 
yourself.  It’s  a  particular  problem  which  remains  unresolved  in 
your  technique.” 

“I’m  trying  to  figure  out  how  not  to  do  it.” 

“I’m  trying  to  figure  out  how  to  tell  you  what  to  do,”  Meisner 
says.  “Wait  a  minute.  There’s  a  certain  element — would  that  it 
weren’t  there,  but  it  is — in  preparation  which  makes  you  aware 
of  yourself.  But  the  moment  you  play  the  scene  and  your  atten¬ 
tion  focuses  on  something  else,  that  self-consciousness  dimin¬ 
ishes.  Do  you  understand?” 


“Yes,  I  do.  Thank  you.”  y..  .  . ; ;;Sr| 

“Particularization,”  Meisner  says,  “is  really  very  simple  and 
not  nearly  as  complicated  as  preparation — nor  as  subtle.  Let’s  say  '  jf 
I  make  up  my  mind  that  I  hate  to  teach,  see?  That’s  all  I  have  to  •; 
say.”  He  gets  up  and  goes  to  the  door  of  the  room.  “So  I  come 
into  the  class  . .  .”  He  hobbles  into  the  room,  glares  at  the  students  .  J 
and  says,  “Oh,  shut  up!”  The  class  laughs.  Then  he  repeats  the  ; 
entrance,  except  that  this  time  he  waltzes  in,  delighted  to  see  his 
students.  “Is  everybody  here?”  he  asks,  and  they  laugh  again. 
“Now,  I  didn’t  have  to  work  that  out.  I  just  know  what  ‘I  bate  •; 
to  teach’ — ‘I  love  to  teach’  does  to  me  emotionally.  The  only  thing 
I  cannot  do  is  to  do  nothing — that  is,  not  to  interpret.  It’s  really 
very  simple  if  you  are  imaginative.  It’s  instinctive.” 

Meisner  returns  to  his  desk.  “Do  you  know  the  Ibsen  play 
Hedda  Gabler ?  She  burns  the  manuscript  at  the  end  of  the  play. 

Do  you  remember  that?  Once  I  talked  to  Harold  Clurman  about 
that  scene,  and  Harold  said  that  when  Hedda  burns  the  man¬ 
uscript,  she’s  burning  him]  That’s  not  just  his  book,  it’s  her 
unfaithful  lover!  Now,  the  difference  between  burning  a  manu¬ 
script  and  burning  a  man  is  enormous.  That ’s  a  particularization! 
That  manuscript  is  him!  Not, his  book,  but  him\ ” 

Meisner  sits  at  the  desk,  removes  the  transmitter  from  his 
pocket  and  places  it  on  the  desk  top. 

“Let  me  tell  you  something  here.  There  are  some  roles,  for  any 
given  actor,  which  cannot  be  particularized.  If  Helen  Hayes  tried 
to  play  Hedda  Gabler,  it  would  be  ludicrous,  right?” 

The  class  agrees. 

“The  text  would  be  spoken — even  Judith  Anderson  learns  her 
lines — but  it  would  come  out  without  the  underlying  emotion. 

“She  would  make  the  correct  choices,’  Anna  says,  “do  the 
right  things,  but  it  would  come  out — ” 

“She’d  play  the  obvious  play.” 

“That’s  my  worst  fear,”  Bette  says. 

"That's  your  worst  fear?”  Meisner  asks,  and  the  class  laughs. 

“It’s  in  the  top  ten,  yeah,”  Bette  says.  “I’m  constantly  afraid  of 
that  because  I — ” 

“I’ll  tell  you  something  about  that,”  Meisner  says.  “\ou  are 
what  you  are.  Your  personality  is  what  it  is.  There  are  some  things 


143 


I  THE  MAGIC  AS  IF.  PARTICULARIZATION 

that  you  cannot  change  and  that  you  may  as  well  accept  in  your¬ 
self.  Each  of  us  has  a  certain  scope  and  certain  limitations.  That’s 
’  our  nature,  our  theatrical  nature.  We  are  limited: by  our  theatrical 
nature,  which  can  be  very  narrow  or  very,  broad.  Duse  could  not 
play  Shakespeare.  She  tried  but  she  failed,;  You  should  read 
George  Bernard  Shaw’s  articles  on  Duse  and  Bernhardt  to  under¬ 
stand  on  the  highest  level  the  difference  in  theatrical  personali¬ 
ties.” 

Meisner  pauses  for  a  moment  before  continuing.  “You  know, 
Maureen  Stapleton  is  a  wonderful  actress,  but  if  you  ask  her  to 
play  the  mother  in  The  Glass  Menagerie  she’s  not  very  good. 
There’s  something  in  her  temperament  which  doesn’t  come  to¬ 
gether  with  that  character.  But  give  her  the  lead  in  The  Rose  Tattoo 
and  nobody  can  touch  her.  There  are  some  parts  we  don’t  have 
the  temperament  for  even  if  we  understand  them,  and  there  are 
some  parts  we  are  so  right  for  that  we  don’t  even  know  that  we 
understand  them.” 

“So  temperament  means  emotional  understanding?”  Joseph  asks. 

“What’s  wrong  with  that?”  Meisner  asks.  “I  wish  you  could  see 
me  play  Macbeth.  You  see,  you  laugh.  What’s  more,  I  laugh. 
What’s  the  harm  in  being  told  that  certain  parts  are  not  right  for 
you?  The  Group  Theatre  had  a  custom.  The  directors  would  read 
the  new  play  to  the  whole  company  before  they  cast  it  and  we 
went  into  rehearsal.  Well,  after  one  or  two  plays,  when  they  read 
the  new  play  and  it  turned  out  that  during  the  course  of  the 
action  a  sideboard  was  moved  and  something  crept  out  that 
hadn’t  been  seen  for  years,  I’d  say  to  myself,  ‘Good  God,  that’s 
my  part!’  And  you  know,  I  was  hardly  ever  wrong.  The  truth  is, 
there  are  some  roles  we  can  play  better  than  others.” 

Rose  Marie  raises  her  hand.  “Do  you  think  that  if  you’re  play¬ 
ing  in  One  Flew  over  the  Cuckoo's  Nest  it’s  necessary  to  go  to  an 
insane  asylum  to  see  how  the  people  behave?” 

“No.” 

“All  you  have  to  do  is  to  go  to  Forty-second  and  Eighth,  right?” 

“If  you  want  to  go  even  that  far,”  Meisner  says.  “You  know, 
when  I  played  the  young  son,  Julie,  in  the  Odets  play  Paradise 
Lost,  I  had  to  play  a  boy  who  was  dying  of  sleeping  sickness.  Did 
I  go  to  a  hospital  where  they  had  sleeping-sickness  patients?  No. 


144  -^V;;V4:r:V  : 

But  I  did  ask  a  doctor  what  the  symptoms  were,  and  he  said,  ‘You 
get  paralyzed.’  So  I  paralyzed  my  left  side — not  my  right  side, 
because  I  had  to  use  it.  That’s  all.  You  pick  out  one  or  two  things 
and  don’t  try  to  duplicate  realistically  all  the  symptoms.” 

“I  think  it’s  important  to  get  information,”  Rose  Marie  says. 

“Observation.  Particularization.” 

“Right.  It’s  like  your  talking  about  wearing  the  emerald  dress 
to  the  White  House.  I  don’t  have  to  make  a  field  trip  to  the  White 
House  or  study  all  the  emeralds  at  Cartier’s;  all  I  have  to  think 
about  is  not  having  to  serve  cheeseburgers  anymore.  If  I  make  it 
personal  to  me,  the  rest  will  follow.” 

Meisner  nods  in  agreement. 

“So  what  have  I  clarified  in  the  way  of  particularizations,  as  ifs? 
Catch  yourself  in  real  life.  You’re  constantly  talking  as  if  ‘When 
the  secretary  said  the  producer  wanted  to  see  me  in  his  office,  it 
was  as  if  my  heart  stopped.’  See?  ‘It  was  as  if  I  felt  myself  break¬ 
ing  into  a  cold  sweat!’  You  use  them  all  the  time.  And  it’s  the 
particularization  that  makes  the  acting  have  a  point.  You  were  all 
here  at  the  beginning  when  Beth  read  Miss  Heilman’s  lines  very 
straight,  with  an  overtone  of  sadness.  It  was  no  good.  That’s  what 
made  me  bring  up  particularization.  Her  reading  was  straight, 
and  consequently  meaningless.  But  if  she  had  prepared  and  also 
had  chosen  apt  particularizations,  it  would  not  be  meaningless. 
The  way  I  greeted  you  when  I  felt  I  loved  to  teach  was  quite 
different  from  the  way  I  greeted  you  when  I  hated  the  job.”  He 
pauses  before  adding,  “So  have  I  made  any  impression  today?” 

“I  think  we  did  a  lot  today,”  Bette  says. 

“That’s  a  generalization,”  Meisner  says. 

“I’ll  have  to  qualify  it — ” 

“A  lot!”  Meisner  says,  and  the  class  laughs. 

“Seriously,”  Meisner  continues,  “how  does  it  feel  to  have  an 
acting  class  and  not  act?” 

“It  feels  fine,”  Anna  says. 

“You  liked  it?” 

“It’s  nice  once  in  a  while,”  John  says.  “It  reallyus.” 

“It’s  rather  like  Stella  Adler,”  Rose  Marie  adds,  and  Meisner 
laughs. 

“Yes,  Stella  does  a  lot  of  talking.  I  love  Stella,”  Meisner  says. 


THE  MAGIC  AS  IF:  PARTICULARIZATION 


145 


“I  really  do.  She’s  my  best  friend.  She  is!  I  learned  an  enormous 
amount  from  her.  Do  you  know  that  at  the  end  of  her  classes  she 
turns  to  the  hordes  of  students  before  her  and  says,  ‘Do  you  love 
me?’  ” 

He  raises  his  arms  above  his  head  and  the  class  laughs  and 
voices  cry  out,  “Yes,  yes!” 

“Swear  it!”  Meisner  says. 

“I  swear!  I  swear!”  voices  shout,  and  the  class  applauds  as 
Meisner  looks  ecstatic. 


April  30 

“I  told  a  couple  last  week  that  they  had  to  have  more  conviction 
about  their  material  and  suggested  that  an  apt  particularization, 
an  as  if  would  deepen  their  playing.  In  the  scene  which  we  have 
just  watched,  the  simple  reality  you  had  between  you  was  very 
nice.  It  was  definitely  the  behavior  of  two  human  beings.  Shaw 
said,  ‘Self-betrayal,  magnified  to  suit  the  optics  of  the  theater,  is 
the  whole  art  of  acting.’  What  does  that  mean?” 

“It  means  to  find  in  yourself  and  reveal  what’s  true  about  the 
scene,”  Anna  says,  “and  to  let  it  rise  to  a  level  where  it  communi¬ 
cates  in  a  real  way.” 

“Suppose  you  said  to  me,  ‘I’m  going  to  buy  you  a  red  tie  from 
Countess  Mara.’  Acting  is  the  art  of  self-revelation,  so  I  have  to 
understand  how  I  feel  about  red,  because  my  answer  in  the  script 
is  ‘Not  red!’  ”  He  turns  to  Bette.  “Tell  me  you’re  going  to  buy 
me  a  red  tie  from  Countess  Mara.” 

“Sandy,”  Bette  says,  “I’m  going  to  buy  you  a  red  tie  from 
Countess  Mara.” 

From  looking  delighted  when  hearing  the  first  part  of  the  line, 
Meisner  grimaces  on  hearing  the  word  “red.”  His  line  bursts 
forth:  “Not  red!” 

“Blue?”  Bette  asks. 

Meisner  smiles  with  pleasure  and  the  class  laughs. 

“Now,  what  did  I  just  do?” 

“You  found  a  reaction  in  yourself,  something  that  was  big 
enough — ” 


146 


“Spontaneous,  right?  Tell  me  you’re  going  to  invite  me  to 
dinner  when  you  finish  decorating  your  dining  room,  and  that 
the  main  course  is  going  to  be  artichokes.” 

“Sandy,  when  my  dining  room  is  finished,  I’m  going  to  invite 
you  to  dinner  and  the  main  course  is  going  to  be  artichokes.” 

Again,  from  looking  pleased,  on  hearing  the  word  “artichokes” 
Meisner’s  face  contorts  with  displeasure. 

“You  don’t  like  artichokes?”  Bette  asks. 

“That’s  quite  clear,  right?”  Meisner  asks,  and  again  the  class 
laughs.  “That  is  material  raised  to  the  optics  of  the  theater,  you 
follow?” 

“Yes.”  •  .  ■  '■ 

“What  do  you  follow?” 

“It’s  not  a  little  reaction.  It’s  a  reaction  that’s  raised  to  a  point 
where  .  .  .” 

“.  .  .  it  needs  to  be.  You  have  to  know  what  you’re  saying  means 
to  you.  That,  in  large  measure,  is  how  you  work  on  a  part.  You 
follow?”  ■  '  ‘  \  ’  • 

“So  you  should  explore  a  part  for  the  things  to  which  you  can 
react  personally?”  Beth  asks. 

“After  you’ve  achieved  the  basic  reality.  Let’s  talk  about  this. 
Ray,  what  do  you  think?” 

“Well,  what’s  curious  to  me  is  that  you  said  that  this  explora¬ 
tion  should  wait  until  after  you’ve  achieved  the  basic  reality  of 
the  scene.  It’s  something  I’d  never  thought  of  before  and  it 
seemed  to  make  a  lot  of  sense,  because  then  you  prevent  yourself 
from  making  too  much  of  something  and  falsifying  it  as  a  result. 
Am  I  understanding  you  correctly?” 

“Or  from  falling  into  a  cliche.” 

“So  if  you  can  get  the  basic  reality  at  the  conversational  level, 
and  then  discover  the  deeper  meanings  that  fuel  it  with  the  optics 
of  theater,  it’s  not  built  on  a  bed  of  cliches,”  Ray  says. 

“What  does  it  mean,  ‘the  optics  of  the  theater’?” 

“It  means  that  when  you  put  the  real  situation  on  the  stage, 
you  need  to  keep  its  reality  so  that  it’s  believable  both  to  you  and 
to  the  audience,  but  you  have  to  raise  it  to  a  level  above  real  life. 
Otherwise  it  doesn’t  communicate.” 

“You’re  talking  about  emotion?”  Meisner  asks. 


THE  MAGIC  AS  IF  PARTICULARIZATION 


147 


“Yeah,  I  guess.  That’s  part  of  it,  but  I  was  also  thinking  in 
terms  of  energy.” 

“Energy  will  come  with  it.  The  trouble  with  English  actors  is 
their  use  of  energy.  It’s  got  to  be  there,  but  they  think  of  it  as 
stage  energy,  with  no  emotional  backbone,  no  support.” 

“So  if  you  have  the  emotion  first,  the  energy  comes  as  a  result 
of  how  deeply  you  feel  the  emotion,  as  opposed  to  going  for  an 
energy  that  has  no  base.” 

“Tell  me  again  you’re  going  to  buy  me  a  tie.” 

“Sandy,”  Bette  says,  “I’m  going  to  buy  you  a  red  tie  from 
Countess  Mara.” 

This  time  Meisner’s  face  puckers  and  he  says  in  a  prissy  voice, 
“Uh  .  .  .  red!” 

“See,  this  time  I’m  trying  to  do  it  all  in  my  vocal  intonation, 
whereas  before  when  Bette  said  ‘a  red  tie’  it  was  as  if  she  had  said 
‘Hitler’  to  me.”  His  expression  is  one  of  deep  revulsion.  “I’m 
overdoing  this  a  little  bit,  but  just  a  little.  First  the  reality;  that 
you  have.  Now  the  fullness  with  which  you  express  yourself.  To 
put  this  onstage  it  has  to  be  the  art  of  self-revelation  raised  to  the 
optics — the  eye,  the  level,  call  it  what  you  like— of  the  theater.  In 
this  scene,  for  example,  she  asks  you  if  you  have  sex  with  your 
husband,  doesn’t  she?  What’s  your  answer?” 

“That  it’s  only  animal,”  Anna  says. 

“You’re  so  right,”  Meisner  says  with  an  expression  of  mild 
disgust.  “You  follow?  That’s  basically  an  organic  reading.  What 
does  that  mean,  an  ‘organic  reading’?” 

“No  chemicals,”  Bette  says,  “no  preservatives.” 

“No  bullshit,”  Ray  says. 

“No  bullshit,”  Meisner  repeats.  “That’s  the  higher  criticism.” 
The  class  laughs.  “So  the  problem  is  solved  if  you  just  make  sure 
you  know  how  you  feel  about  what  you’re  talking  about.  You 
know,  I  find  this  very  difficult  to  make  clear:  how  you  express 
yourself  with  a  full  meaning.  Next  time  I  plan  to  do  the  Spoon 
River  Anthology  with  you.  Then  you’ll  see  something!” 

“I  think  everybody’s  afraid  of  doing  anything  phony,”  Rose 
Marie  says,  “so  the  tendency  is  to  underplay — ” 

“So  I’m  egging  you  on!” 


“Making  the  Part  Your  Own” 

meisner:  The  American  actor  is  very  lucky.  Why? 
Because  so  little  is  asked  of  him. 


May  3 

“Is  everybody  here?”  Meisner  says  as  he  quickly  enters  the  class¬ 
room.  Scott  Roberts  surveys  the  room  and  nods.  “Good,” 
Meisner  says  and  sits  behind  his  desk.  “Let’s  start  easily.  Today 
we  are  going  to  begin  to  work  with  texts  taken  from  Edgar  Lee 
Masters’  collection  of  poems  called  The  Spoon  River  Anthology.  F or 
our  acting  purposes  these  are  not  poems,  nor  are  they  in  any 
sense  to  be  taken  as  monologues  or  solo  performances.  Instead, 
we  should  consider  them  as  speeches  in  a  play  which  are 
preceded  by  a  cue  that  I’ll  describe  in  a  minute.  Ray,  which  one 
have  you  chosen?” 

“I  have  about  five  which  I  haven’t  decided  among.” 

“Decide.” 


'.(^“Immediately?” 

“Immediately.  The  simplest  one.  The  one  that’s  most  you.” 
“I’m  not  so  sure  what  you  mean  by  ‘simple.’  ” 

“One  that’s  simple,  personal,  and  that  you  have  a  genuine 
feeling  for.” 

“Okay,”  Ray  says.  “I’ll  read  ‘Robert  Southey  Burke.’  ”  He  sits 
on  a  gray  metal  folding  chair  in  the  center  of  the  acting  area  and 
begins  to  read  in  a  clear,  quiet  voice: 

“I  spent  my  money  trying  to  elect  you  Mayor, 

A.  D.  Blood. 

I  lavished  my  admiration  upon  you, 

You  were  to  my  mind  the  almost  perfect  man. 

You  devoured  my  personality, 

And  the  idealism  of  my  youth, 

And  the  strength  of  a  high-souled  fealty. 

And  all  my  hopes  for  the  world, 

And  all  my  beliefs  in  Truth, 

Were  smelted  up  in  the  blinding  heat 
Of  my  devotion  to  you, 

And  molded  into  your  image. 

And  then  when  I  found  what  you  were: 

That  your  soul  was  small 

And  your  words  were  false 

As  your  blue-white  porcelain  teeth, 

And  your  cuffs  of  celluloid, 

.  I  hated  the  love  I  had  for  you, 

I  hated  myself,  I  hated  you 

For  my  wasted  soul,  and  wasted  youth. 

And  I  say  to  all,  beware  of  ideals, 

Beware  of  giving  your  love  away 
To  any  man  alive.” 

“Okay,”  Meisner  says.  “Now,  the  cue  for  that  speech  in  a  play 
could  be,  ‘Ray,  why  did  you  turn  so  suddenly  against’ — what’s 
his  name?” 

“Blood.  A.  D.  Blood,”  Ray  says. 

“ — ‘A.  D.  Blood,  when  once  you  adored  him?  Such  a  question 


150 


could  be  asked  of  you;  and  that  speech  is  your  answer  to  the 
question.”  - 

“So  I  make  up  the  question  that’s  the  cue?” 

“Who’s  your  partner?” 

“Rose  Marie.”  „  > 

“She  could  ask  you  the  question.  What’s  your  answer? 

“This  speech?”  Ray  asks. 

“Yes.  It’s  not  a  monologue.  It  is  an  answer  to  a  question, 
right?” 

“Yes.”'  " 

“Well,  just  for  the  fun  of  it,  Rose  Marie,  ask  him  why  he  turned 
so  against  A.  D.  Blood.  Ray,  you  put  the  book  down  and  answer 
her.” 

“Why  did  you  turn  so  against  A.  D.  Blood?  Rose  Marie  asks. 

“Because  I  spent  all  my  money  trying  to  get  him  elected 
mayor,”  Ray  says  in  an  intense,  even  and  quickly  inflected  voice. 
“I  thought  he  was  the  greatest  politician  in  the  world  and  I 
worked  real  hard  for  him.  Then  I  discovered  what  a  fake  he  really 
was,  and  when  I  found  it  out  I  hated  the  fact  that  I  had  liked  him 
so  much.  I  hated  myself  for  thinking  he  was  a  good  person  and 
for  not  knowing  the  truth.” 

“Okay,”  Meisner  says.  “That’s  the  beginning  of  the  idea.  Ray, 
what  are  the  last  two  lines  of  the  speech?” 

Ray  picks  up  the  book  from  the  floor  and  finds  the  poem. 

“  ‘And  I  say  to  all,  beware  of  ideals,  /  Beware  of  giving  your  love 
away  /  To  any  man  alive.’  ” 

“How  do  you  feel  about  that?” 

“It’s  harsh!  I  feel  betrayed  and  angry.” 

“Could  you  prepare  for  that?” 

“Yes.” 

“Okay.  Listen,  everybody.  The  emotional  essence  of  each  of 
these  speeches  usually  comes  in  the  last  two  lines.  In  this  case  it  s 
/  hate  fake  idols!  Right?” 

“Right,”  Ray  says.  “Now  I  know  what  you  mean  by  a  personal 
response  to  it.” 

“Good.  Now  I’ll  show  you  something,  and  let’s  see  if  it  means 
anything  to  you.  Let’s  imagine  I  have  a  short  speech  in  a  play, 
which  I’ll  deliver  in  a  moment.  It’s  hard  for  me  to  laugh,  but  here 


"MAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN"  151 

goes.”  Instantly  Meisner  looks  as  if  he  is  delighted  by  something 
wondrous  and  claps  his  hands  in  pleasure. 

“My  speech  begins,  ‘I  was  in  the  worst  taxi  accident  of  my  life! 
Two  people  were  killed!’  Then,  after  more  laughter  and  more 
words,  I  get  to  the  last  line,  which  is,  ‘But  I  came  out  safe  and 
so  did  my  companion!’  The  emotional  essence  is  in  the  last  line, 
and  once  you  have  prepared  that  gaiety,  then  you  start  the  speech, 
even  though  the  first  line  of  it  is  ‘I  was  in  the  worst  taxi  accident 
of  my  life!’  In  these  texts  it’s  the  last  two  lines  which  determine 
the  emotional  color  of  the  whole  piece.  To  continue  with  this 
example,  suppose  your  partner  says  to  you  in  the  scene,  ‘You’re 
always  so  happy.  Why  are  you  always  laughing?’  Your  response 
is,  ‘I  was  in  the  worst  taxi  accident  of  my  life!’  And  then,  eventu¬ 
ally,  ‘And  I  thank  God  I’m  alive!'  Do  you  follow  the  logic  of  what 
I’m  talking  about?” 

Ray  nods. 

“Okay,  rehearse  with  Rose  Marie.  She’ll  have  one  too.  You  get 
the  preparation  from  the  last  two  lines,  and  then  invent — just  for 
the  exercise — a  simple  cue  that  motivates  the  speech.  Let  me 
repeat:  this  has  to  be  treated  like  a  speech  in  a  play,  with  a  cue 
and  then  an  answer.  It  is  not  a  solo.” 

“So  when  I  say  the  words  that  appear  on  the  page,  I  say  them 
to  Rose  Marie?” 

“Yes.  You  make  clear  to  her  why  you’re  so  bitterly  angry.  So 
what  do  you  start  with?”  he  asks  Rose  Marie. 

“You  start  with  a  preparation  based  on  the  last  two  lines  of  the 
speech.” 

“And  you  take  your  time  preparing,”  Meisner  adds.  “Then 
you  improvise  the  speech,  making  a  response  in  your  own  words 
which  contains  as  least  some  of  the  elements  of  the  speech.  Then 
prepare  and  read  the  actual  text.  Improvise,  then  read  it,  then 
improvise — always  with  a  preparation.  Next  class  I  won’t  ask 
you  to  do  the  actual  speech.  You  won’t  do  it  until  I  sense  that  you 
have  a  secure  emotional  grasp  of  the  material.  You  must  make  a 
reality  of  that  speech — make  it  your  own — by  giving  it  a  real 
preparation  derived  from  the  end  of  the  speech  and  then  relating 
its  content  in  your  own  words  to  your  partner.  Any  questions?” 

“Yes,”  Rose  Marie  says.  “In  that  speech  about  A.  D.  Blood,  can 


Ray  do  it  for  the  purpose  of  the  improvisation  without  eWn 
mentioning  A.  D.  Blood?”  '  -  vr* 

“Of  course!”  :  ■ 

“He  could  just  say  something  like,  ‘I  hate  it  when  people  treaty 
me  unfairly’?”  T:|f 

“Right!  The  speech  is  not  about  A.  D.  Blood.  The  speech  is  |j| 
about  false  idols,  right?”  -  ;| 

The  class  nods.  i| 

“All  right,  Ray,  sit  down,”  Meisner  says.  “Beth,  have  you  got  J 

one?”  ”  .  ' 

Beth  comes  forward.  Her  luxurious  hair  is  tied  back  and  she  _  i 
is  wearing  gray  slacks.  She  sits  and  begins  to  read  the  poem  Ida  y 
Frickey”:  ,  ,2 


“Nothing  in  life  is  alien  to  you: 

I  was  a  penniless  girl  from  Summum 
Who  stepped  from  the  morning  train  in  Spoon  River. 
All  the  houses  stood  before  me  with  closed  doors 
And  drawn  shades — I  was  barred  out; 

I  had  no  place  or  part  in  any  of  them. 

And  I  walked  past  the  old  McNeely  mansion, 

A  castle  of  stone  ’mid  walks  and  gardens, 

With  workmen  about  the  place  on  guard, 

And  the  County  and  State  upholding  it 
For  its  lordly  owner,  full  of  pride. 

I  was  so  hungry  I  had  a  vision: 

I  saw  a  giant  pair  of  scissors 

Dip  from  the  sky,  like  the  beam  of  a  dredge, 

And  cut  the  house  in  two  like  a  curtain. 

But  at  the  ‘Commercial’  I  saw  a  man, 

Who  winked  at  me  as  I  asked  for  work — 

It  was  Wash  McNeely’s  son. 

He  proved  the  link  in  the  chain  of  title 
To  half  my  ownership  of  the  mansion, 

Through  a  breach  of  promise  suit — the  scissors. 

So,  you  see,  the  house,  from  the  day  I  was  born, 

Was  only  waiting  for  me.” 


Pp&What's  that  speech  about?  Don’t  give  a  lecture.  Tell  us  in  your 
flown  words  about  a  personal  experience.” 

pr *  “It’s  about  going  into  a  place  and  feeling  isolated  and  locked 
out,  but  having  a  vision  that  somehow  you  belong  there  and 
.  helping,  through  your  own  work,  to  open  the  doors,  to  make  the 
place  home — proving  that  it  was  home  all  the  time.” 

“That’s  not  what  the. speech  is  about,”  Meisner  says.  “Look,  I’ll 
do  it  for  you.”  His  face  lights  up  in  a  delighted  smile.  “I  got  off 
a  train  in  a  strange  town,”  he  says.  “I  didn’t  know  anybody,  and 
nobody  knew  me.  It  was  early  in  the  morning  and  I  walked  and 
passed  a  great  big  mansion.  I  was  so  hungry  that  I  had  a  vision  of 
the  house  being  cut  in  half  by  a  giant  pair  of  scissors!  I  went  into 
the  hotel  and  some  guy  there  winked  at  me,  so  what  do  you  think 
I  did?  I  winked  back!  He  bought  me  something  to  eat.  We  went 
to  bed  together,  and  eventually  he  promised  to  marry  me.  But 
when  he  didn’t,  I  sued  the  pants  off  him!  And  I  was  awarded  the 
mansion!  Me!  Which  only  goes  to  prove  that  nothing  you  wish  for 
in  this  life  is  going  to  remain  foreign  to  you!  Isn’t  that  wonder¬ 
ful?” 

His  enjoyment  of  the  speech  is  infectious  and  the  class  laughs 
delightedly. 

“That’s  what  that  speech  means,  you  see?” 

“Yes,”  Beth  says. 

“What’s  the  emotional  preparation  for  that  speech,  do  you 
think?” 

“To  me  it’s  that  anything’s  possible.  It’s  a  dream,  imagining 
it — ” 

“That’s  not  an  emotion;  that’s  a  sentence.  Are  you  ticklish?” 

“Not  really.” 

He  points  to  Bette,  who  is  sitting  in  the  front  row  of  chairs. 
“Go  tickle  her,”  he  commands.  “Tickle  her!” 

Bette  approaches  Beth  and,  reaching  around  her  from  behind, 
begins  to  tickle  her  waist. 

“Really!”  Beth  says.  “I’m  not  ticklish!”  She  begins  to  laugh  a 
large,  genuine  laugh  and  the  whole  class  joins  in. 

“Now,”  Meisner  says.  “Tell  her  the  story!  Hurry  up!” 

“I  got  off  the  tra-han-ain,”  Beth  exclaims,  “and  I  saw  this 
gorgeous  mansion!  And,  oh,  God,  I  was  so  hungry!  I  started 


154 


walking  to  the  inn  to  ask  for  work — ”  At  this  point,  Bette  joins 
in  the  laughter  delightedly.  “And  I  met  this  guy  there  and  he 
happened  to  be  the  owner  of  the  mansion!”  The  two  women 
laugh  with  increased  pleasure.  “And.  he  promised  to  marry  me, 
and  when  he  didn’t,”  Beth  continues,  “I  sued  him  for  every  cent 
he  had!  And  do  you  know  what?”  Beth  asks,  and  Bette  shakes  her 
head.  “I  won!”  They  laugh  warmly  together  for  a  few  seconds 
more. 

“What  does  that  prove?”  Meisner  asks. 

“If  I’m  ticklish,”  Beth  says  happily,  “anything’s  possible!” 

“Are  you  beginning  to  get  the  idea?”  Meisner  asks  the  class. 

“So,”  says  John,  “what  we  use  from  the  last  couple  of  lines,  we 
use  right  from  the  first  word?  At  first  I  thought  we  were  to 
prepare  for  that  but  were  to  keep  it  only  for  the  last  couple  of 
lines.  But  you  want  the  whole  thing  done  that  way,  right?” 

“What  was  my  example  about  the  taxi  accident?” 

“It  was  right  from  the  beginning.” 

Almost  as  if  intoxicated,  Bette  and  Beth  burst  into  laughter 
again. 

“Hold  on  to  that  until  next  Monday!”  Meisner  says,  and  the 
class  laughs.  “Dave?  Did  you  choose  one?” 

“Yes.” 

“Let’s  hear  it.” 

Dave  reads  “Dr.  Siegfried  Iseman”  in  a  loud,  clear  voice: 

“I  said  when  they  handed  me  my  diploma, 

I  said  to  myself  I  will  be  good 

And  wise  and  brave' and  helpful  to  others; 

I  said  I  will  carry  the  Christian  creed 

Into  the  practice  of  medicine! 

Somehow  the  world  and  the  other  doctors 

Know  what’s  in  your  heart  as  soon  as  you  make 

This  high-souled  resolution. 

And  the  way  of  it  is  they  starve  you  out. 

And  no  one  comes  to  you  but  the  poor. 

And  you  find  too  late  that  being  a  doctor 

Is  just  a  way  of  making  a  living. 

And  when  you  are  poor  and  have  to  carry 


"MAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN" 


155 


The  Christian  creed  and  wife  and  children 

All  on  your  back,  it  is  too  much! 

That’s  why  I  made  the  Elixir  of  Youth, 

Which  landed  me  in  jail  at  Peoria 

Branded  a  swindler  and  a  crook 

By  the  upright  Federal  Judge!” 

“What  are  the  last  two  lines?”  Meisner  asks. 

“Well,  the  last  four  lines  are:  ‘That’s  why  I  made  the  Elixir  of 
Youth,  /  Which  landed  me  in  jail  at  Peoria  /  Branded  a  swindler 
and  a  crook  /  By  the  upright  Federal  Judge!’  ” 

“How  do  you  feel  about  that?” 

“Resentful.” 

“What’s  stronger  than  resentful?” 

“Hate.” 

“All  right.  What  else  do  you  feel?” 

“That  it’s  a  joke.” 

“What  kind  of  a  joke?” 

“That  there’s  no  such  thing  as  being  ‘upright.’  ” 

“Wait  a  minute.  What  did  you  observe  in  Beth’s  exercise?” 

“That  her  preparation — the  laughing — got  her  involved  in 
what  she  was  doing.” 

“What  was  the  meaning  of  my  being  funny  when  I  said,  ‘I  was 
in  the  greatest  taxi  accident  ever!'  What  did  you  observe  about 
that?” 

“That  you  were  saying  one  thing  and  were  feeling  another.” 

“True  enough.”  Meisner  pauses  for  a  moment.  “What  are  you 
going  to  do  about  the  almost  insane  bitterness  of  this  man?  I  say 
this  man  is  almost  insane  in  his  impotence.  The  cue  for  this 
speech  is  very  simple.  ‘Good  God,  Dave,  how  did  you  ever  land 
in  jail?’  When  you  work  with  Sarah  at  home,  take  a  couple  of 
pencils  and  break  them  into  a  thousand  pieces  as  a  release  for 
your  venom,  and  when  you  have  that,  then,  tell  Sarah  in  your 
own  words  how  you  happened  to  land  in  jail.  Do  you  follow?” 

“Yes.” 

“Listen,  people,  I  just  gave  him  a  character  to  play.  He  doesn’t 
have  to  change  his  face;  he  doesn’t  have  to  shave  off  his  mous¬ 
tache;  he  doesn’t  need  an  accent.  He  needs  only  one  thing:  murder 


in  his  heart.  He’s  insane.  Do  you  get  that?  Character  comes  from  " 
how  you  do  what  you  do.  It’s  not  easy  to  give  release  to  that  kind 
of  venom.” 

Meisner  pauses  for  a  moment.  “You  know,  there’s  another  way 
you  could  play  this — in  tears,  crying,  broken  down  by  the  trag¬ 
edy  of  your  life.  So  far,  you’ve  all  picked  such  emotionally  com¬ 
plicated  ones.  There  are  simple  ones  in  this  book.  But  if  you 
understood  Beth’s  hearty  laughter — that’s  the  essence  of  this  ex¬ 
ercise.  Mary,  your  turn.” 

Mary  Franc,  a  blond  woman  in  her  late  forties,  has  been  an 
auditor  in  the  class  from  its  beginning.  With  the  expulsion  of 
Vincent,  she  has  joined  the  group  of  active  students.  “This  is 
‘Hannah  Armstrong,’  ”  she  says. 

“I  wrote  him  a  letter  asking  him  for  old  times’  sake 
To  discharge  my  sick  boy  from  the  army; 

But  maybe  he  couldn’t  read  it. 

Then  I  went  to  town  and  had  James  Garber, 

Who  wrote  beautifully,  write  him  a  letter;  i 

But  maybe  that  was  lost  in  the  mails. 

So  I  traveled  all  the  way  to  Washington. 

I  was  more  than  an  hour  finding  the  White  House. 

And  when  I  found  it  they  turned  me  away, 

Hiding  their  smiles.  Then  I  thought: 

‘Oh,  well,  he  ain’t  the  same  as  when  I  boarded  him 
And  he  and  my  husband  worked  together 
And  all  of  us  called  him  Abe,  there  in  Menard.’ 

As  a  last  attempt  I  turned  to  a  guard  and  said:  , 

‘Please  say  it’s  old  Aunt  Hannah  Armstrong 
From  Illinois,  come  to  see  him  about  her  sick  boy  1 

In  the  army.’  .. 

Well,  just  in  a  moment  they  let  me  in! 

And  when  he  saw  me  he  broke  into  a  laugh,  -3 

And  dropped  his  business  as  president,  J 

And  wrote  in  his  own  hand  Doug’s  discharge,  J 

Talking  the  while  of  the  early  days,  Vi 

And  telling  stories.”  31 


MAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN"  1  5  7 

“Okay,”  Meisner  says,  “I’m  going  to  give  you  an  interpreta¬ 
tion.  From  the  speech  we  learn  that  Lincoln  was  a  good  man, 
right?  A  sweet  man — helpful,  human.  What  are  the  last  two 
lines?” 

“The  last  two  lines  are:  ‘Talking  the  while  of  the  early  days, 
/  And  telling  stories.’  ” 

“So  what  do  you  feel  about  that?” 

“I  feel  like  she’s — ” 

“You!  You!” 

“That  I’m  glad  to  find  out  that  this  great  man  remembers  me.” 

“That’s  the  story.  He  remembers  you.  That  has  emotional  im¬ 
plications.” 

“It  makes  me  feel  proud  and  loving.” 

“All  right,  I’m  going  to  show  you  something.  I  want  you  to 
imagine  an  experience  that  was  so  good  and  so  sweet  and  so  much 
a  tribute  to  the  goodness  of  human  beings  that  you  can’t  think 
about  it  without  crying.  Don’t  look  for  a  real  experience;  I  doubt 
whether  you’ll  find  it.  Go  to  your  imagination,  and  come  up  with 
a  human  kindness  which  is  so  rare  that  you  can’t  think  about  it 
without  crying.  When  you’re  fully  prepared,  tell  that  story  to 
Ralph.  Do  you  follow?” 

Mary  nods  uncertainly. 

“It’s  as  if  I  said,  ‘You  know,  I  can’t  think  of  my  mother  without 
wanting  to  break  down.  I’ll  tell  you  a  story  about  the  kind  of 
person  she  was.  .  .  .’  That’s  what  I’m  doing,  except  now  my  text 
is:  ‘I  was  in  terrible  trouble  and  I  remembered  my  old  friend, 
Abraham  Lincoln,  so  I  went  to  visit  him.  They  finally  let  me  in. 
There  he  was,  just  as  he  used  to  be.  It’s  heartbreaking  now  that 
he’s  dead.’  I  involve  myself  emotionally  in  something  which  I 
respond  to,  such  as  the  sweetness  and  goodness  of  some  people. 
It’s  as  if  the  whole  speech  was  held  together  by  ‘I’ll  tell  you  a 
story  of  what  an  angel  he  was.’  And  if  you  let  yourself  alone  emotion¬ 
ally,  something  will  happen.  Now,  if  you  can  follow  that,  then 
you  prepare  and  float  on  what  you’ve  got,  and  in  your  own  words 
tell  it  to  your  partner.  Right?” 

“Right,”  Mary  says. 

“You  pick  such  difficult  ones!” 

“They’re  all  difficult,”  Mary  says. 


“They’re  notv  You’ll  see.  Joseph  Morgan,  what  have  you  got? 
‘“Harry  Wilmans.’  '  S 

“Read  it.”  -  .  .  ■: 

“I  was  just  turned  twenty-one, 

And  Henry  Phipps,  the  Sunday-school  superintendent, 
Made  a  speech  in  Bindle’s  Opera  House. 

‘The  honor  of  the  flag  must  be  upheld,’  he  said, 

‘Whether  it  be  assailed  by  a  barbarous  tribe  of  Tagalogs 
Or  the  greatest  power  in  Europe.’ 

And  we  cheered  and  cheered  the  speech  and  the  flag  he 
waved 

As  he  spoke. 

And  I  went  to  the  war  in  spite  of  my  father, 

And  followed  the  flag  till  I  saw  it  raised 
By  our  camp  in  a  rice  field  near  Manila, 

And  all  of  us  cheered  and  cheered  it. 

But  there  were  flies  and  poisonous  things; 

And  there  was  the  deadly  water, 

And  the  cruel  heat,  ' 

And  the  sickening,  putrid  food; 

And  the  smell  of  the  trench  just  back  of  the  tents 
Where  the  soldiers  went  to  empty  themselves; 

And  there  were  the  whores  who  followed  us,  full  of 
syphilis; 

And  beastly  acts  between  ourselves  or  alone, 

With  bullying,  hatred,  degradation  among  us, 

And  days  of  loathing  and  nights  of  fear 

To  the  hour  of 'the  charge  through  the  steaming  swamp, 

Following  the  flag, 

Till  I  fell  with  a  scream,  shot  through  the  guts. 

Now  there’s  a  flag  over  me  in  Spoon  River! 

A  flag!  A  flag!” 

“What  do  you  feel  about  the  last  two  lines?”  Meisner  asks. 

“I  feel  that  I  could  kill  somebody  for  taking  my  life  from  me.” 
“Are  you  furious?” 

“I  went  to  war  for  them  and  they  killed  me.” 


I'mAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN" 


159 


“They  made  a  gullible  fool  out  of  you,  didn’t  they?” 
“Yeah.” 


“How  do  you  feel  about  that?” 

“Like  I  want  to  kill  somebody.  Like  I  want  to  kill  Henry 
Phipps.  Like  I  could  scream.  ”  Joseph  bangs  his  fist  onto  his  leg. 

“So  do  it  next  time  in  your  own  words — scream  it!  You  made 
a  fool  of  yourself,  didn’t  you?  A.  jackass!  How  would  you  feel  if 
your  were  fifteen  and  you  went  to  a  Christmas  party  and  said, 
‘But  where’s  Santa  Claus?’  and  everybody  was  rolling  on  the  floor 
laughing  at  you.  How  would  you  feel?” 

.  “I’d  feel  stupid.” 

“How  would  you  feel  if  they  gave  you  a  stuffed  Santa  Claus  for 
your  seventeenth  birthday?” 

“I’d  want  to  hit  somebody!” 

“ That's  the  way  you  begin.  Are  you  following  the  logic  of 
this?”  he  asks  the  class  and  they  nod.  “How  come  you  have  a  flag 
on  your  grave  when  nobody  else  does?  Put  the  book  away!” 

“Because  to  me  it’s  something  they  did  as  an  empty  symbol  for 
having  given  my  life  to  the  country.” 

“What  happened?” 

“I  was  shot.” 

“What’s  the  beginning  of  it — in  your  own  words.” 

“Well,  I  went  to  hear  a  pompous  ass  stand  up  and  make  a 
speech  about  how  we  have  to  defend  the  country,  and  I  was 
young  and  believed  what  he  said.  So  I  went  off  and  joined  the 
army — ” 

“I  think  there  is  more  self-hatred  than  that.  ‘I  hate  what  I  did. 
I  hate  what  they  put  me  through.  I  bate  what  they  did  to  me  when 
I  came  back!’  Does  that  mean  anything  to  you?” 

“Yeah.”  ; 

“When  it  comes  right  down  to  it,  it’s  Joseph  Morgan’s  emotion. 
It’s  Joseph  Morgan  absolutely  beside  himself.  When  it  comes 
down  to  it,  it’s  always  you.  What  did  I  just  say  to  you?” 

“That  the  emotion  comes  from  me.” 

“Do  you  have  a  temper?” 

“Yes,  I  do.” 

“Then,  where  does  the  control  come  from?” 

“Probably  it’s  from  the  way  I  was  raised.” 


160 

‘I  hate  parents!”  Meisner  exclaims  and  the  class  laughs.  ‘‘How 
would  you  like  to  be  operated  on  without  an  anesthetic?” 

“No,  thank  you.” 

“That’s  what  this  is,  Joe.  That’s  what  this  is.” 

May  7  .  •  '■■■■■  ■  ", 

“You  people  are  judging  material  from  your  heads,  not  from  your 
hearts.  You  judge  from  what  you  understand,  and  because  all  of 
you,  unfortunately,  have  been  to  college  there  are  no  words  in 
these  texts  that  are  difficult  for  you  to  understand.” 

“Would  you  rather  I  picked  something  else?”  Sarah  asks.  She 
has  just  read  a  philosophical  poem  about  an  elderly  milliner. 

Something  simple,”  Meisner  says.  “Something  that  makes 
you  laugh  or  cry  or  get  angry.  I’m  talking  about  emotions!  Have 
you  got  another?” 

“Well,  I’d  rather  put  it  off  until  Monday  if  that’s  all  right  with 
you.”  ' 

“Sure.  Listen,  people,  when  I  was  twenty  or  thereabouts,  my 
favorite  composer  was  Chopin..  Romantic,  melodious,  emotional. 
And  my  friend,  Aaron  Copland,  used  to  die  with  laughter  because 
he  liked  composers  who  were  avant-garde,  atonal  and  dissonant.  I 
was  smart.  He  wasn’t.  Who  knows,  that  may  have  been  smart  for 
him,  but  what  I  liked  was  right  for  me.  I  wish  I  had  a  piano  here  so 
I  could  show  you.”  He  begins  to  play  a  lush,  Chopinesque  melody 
on  the  top  of  his  desk.  “Gorgeous!  I  say,  pick  from  your  heart!  ;! 
Don’t  pick  from  your  head!  Why  not  be  simple?  -What’s  the  crime 
in  being  simple?”  :He  pauses  for  a  moment.  “You  know,  my  big-  I 
gest  job  in  teaching  you  as  actors  is  to  bring  you  together  with 
yourself.  That’s  the  root  of  creative  acting.”  He  turns  to  Ray. 
What  are  you  learning  from  the  Spoon  River  exercises?”  /: 

Ray  says,  “The  thing  that’s  coming  home  to  me  is  how  you 
make  this  material  your  own.  If  we  do  it  first  in  our  own  words 
and  are  fully  prepared,  then  it’s  an  easier  jump  to  the  actual 
words  of  the  piece.  And  when  we  make  the  jump,  the  words  of 
the  text  are  like  our  own  and  we’re  less  hampered  by  them.  They 
come  from  us.  ” 


"WAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN”  1  6  1 

“Did  Chopin  compose  music  in  order  to  imitate  Mozart?” 
Meisner  asks. 

“I  say  he  didn’t,”  Ray  says. 

“Well,  who  did  he  imitate?” 

“I  think  he  wrote  to  make  music  that  pleased  him.  He  was 
writing  from  his  own  instinct  and  spirit.” 

“His  own  what?” 

“Instinct  and  spirit— his  soul.” 

“Do  you  know  the  painter  Cezanne?  Did  he  paint  to  imitate 
Rembrandt?  He  didn’t?  Are  you  sure?  Who  did  he  imitate?” 

“He  didn’t  imitate  anyone.” 

“What  did  he  do?” 

“He  painted  for  himself.” 

“Where  did  he  get  his  ideas?” 

“From  his  instincts,  his  imagination.” 

“Who  did  Duse  imitate?  Well,  you  never  saw  her.  What’s  the 
point  I’m  making?” 

“That  your  work  comes  from  within  yourself,”  Beth  says. 
“Even  though  the  material  already  exists,  the  life  you  bring  to  it 
is  your  own.  It’s  unique  for  each  person  who  does  it.” 

“You  know,”  Meisner  says,  “learning  to  act  takes  time.  It’s 
made  out  of  the  human  being  who’s  doing  the  work.  Each  of  you 
in  your  own  way  has  certain  human  elements  which  are  on  the 
surface  and  are  easy  to  play.  Other  elements  are  more  difficult, 
but  whatever  you  get  from  every  exercise  is  part  of  your  learning 
and  improvement.  You  know,  if  you  were  a  painter  or  a  musi¬ 
cian,  you’d  choose  material  because  it  already  meant  something 
to  you,  but  in  acting  you  have  a  much  more  difficult  problem. 
More  often  than  not  you’re  given  material  which  is  not  related 
to  you,  and  you  have  to  learn  how  to  make  it  your  own.  You  have 
to  learn  how  to  use  yourselves  as  actors.  There  are  very  few 
character  actors.  There  should  be  more,  but  actors  today  don’t 
know  how  to  make  use  of  what  doesn’t  come  spontaneously  to 
them.  Television  is  a  perfect  example  of  your  playing  that  deep,” 
— he  holds  his  thumb  and  index  finger  together  before  him — 
“according  to  the  way  you  look.” 

“What  instrument  do  you'play?”  Meisner  asks  Beth. 

“I  don’t,”  Beth  says. 


162 

“You  just  want  to  be  a  star?” 

“I’m  a  writer.” 

“You’re  a  writer?” 

“Yes,  I  play  the  typewriter.” 

“Who  do  you  imitate?” 

“Nobody.” 

“What  does  it  mean  when  you  say  an  artist  is  original?” 

“It  means  that  he  works  from  within  himself,”  Joseph 
says. 

“Are  you  learning  that  here?” 

“Yes.” 

“What  does  it  mean,  to  work  from  within  yourself?” 

“To  express  yourself  impulsively,  not  to  think  about  what  it 
is  that  you’re  doing  or  watch  yourself  self-consciously.” 

“To  express  yourself  impulsively.  According  to  what  stan¬ 
dard?” 

“Of  being  true  to  yourself.” 

“That’s  right,”  Meisner  says.  He  pauses  to  adjust  his  micro¬ 
phone.  “What  does  it  mean  that  you  can’t  be  an  actor  and  a 
gentleman?”  ' 

Joseph  says,  “You’re  allowed  to  do  things  onstage  that  you 
don’t  do  in  life.  You’re  permitted  to  express  yourself  on  stage  and 
don’t  need  to  hold  yourself  back  as  you  must  in  life.” 

“What  does  it  mean,  ‘to  hold  yourself  back?’  ” 

“To  censor  yourself.  Society  sets  the  standard,  but  that  has 
nothing  to  do  with  acting.” 

“That’s  true,  but  what  do  you  mean?” 

“Acting  doesn’t  have  anything  to  do  with  everyday  life.” 

“It  has  to  do  with  truth,”  Meisner  says. 

“It  has  to  do  with  truth,  yeah,”  Joseph  says,  “but  it  doesn’t  have 
anything  to  do  with  conventional  life  outside  the  theatfer.” 

“'I  hat’s  true.  I’ve  heard  Maureen  Stapleton  at  a  party  talk  like 
a  cultured  woman.  Who’s  she  kidding?  That’s  not  what  she  lives 
by  on  the  stage.” 

“Well,  they’re  two  different  things.” 

“What  do  you  mean?” 

“Well,  you  bring  your  special  self,  your  actor’s  self,  to  your 
work,  and  it’s  different  from  the  way. you  are  outside.” 


“MAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN" 


163 


“You  bring  your  real  self,  right?” 

“Your  truthful  self,”  Joseph  says. 

“That’s  why  you  should  never  pick  material  in  response  to 
your  ambition  or  your  intellect.  You  should  pick  material  that 
comes  out  of  your  gut.  Unless  you  need  a  job,”  Meisner  adds,  and 

the  class  laughs. 


May  10 

“Which  one?”  Meisner  asks  Bette. 

•'I  was  going  to  ask  you  about  it,"  she  says.  “A  woman  who  mar¬ 
ried  about  eight  times  who  ends  up  in  Pans  and  gets  poisoned. 
“I  don’t  think  that  one’s  right  for  you.” 

“Okay,”  Bette  says.  “The  one  I  really  liked  was  Elsa  Wer  - 

man.’  ” 

“Do  it.” 

Bette  sits  down  and  begins  to  read: 


“I  was  a  peasant  girl  from  Germany, 

Blue-eyed,  rosy,  happy  and  strong. 

And  the  first  place  I  worked  was  at  Thomas  Greene  s. 


On  a  summer’s  day  when  she  was  away 
He  stole  into  the  kitchen  and  took  me 
Right  in  his  arms  and  kissed  me  on  my  throat, 

I  turning  my  head.  Then  neither  of  us 
Seemed  to  know  what  happened. 

And  I  cried  for  what  would  become  of  me. 

And  cried  and  cried  as  my  secret  began  to  show. 
One  day  Mrs.  Greene  said  she  understood, 

And  would  make  no  trouble  for  me, 

And,  being  childless,  would  adopt  it. 

(He  had  given  her  a  farm  to  be  still.) 

So  she  hid  in  the  house  and  sent  out  rumors, 

As  if  it  were  going  to  happen  to  her. 

And  all  went  well  and  the  child  was  born—  I  hey 

kind  to  me. 

Later  I  married  Gus  Wertman,  and  years  passed. 


were  so 


164 


frying31  P0HtiCal  rallies  when  sitters-by  thought  I  was 

At  the  eloquence  of  Hamilton  Greene— 

That  was  not  it. 

No!  I  wanted  to  say: 

‘That’s  my  son!  That’s  my  son!’  ” 

“How  do  you  feel  about  those  last  two  lines?” 

They  kill  me.” 

“All  right,  prepare  to  be  killed!  Start  crying!  Start  crying  and 
when  yo.  have  trouble  controlling  it,  tell  u/the  story" •  *' 
m  Without  a  pause  Bette  says,  “Okay.  I  came  over  from  Get- 

No!  You’re  not  prepared  ” 

“Xw  su^Melsn::  1%  h™"  ^ 

“I  came  from  Germany  when  I  was  very  young  ”  Bette  savs 

Wkh  HamUtoTc  8  d°WT!!er  Che'kS'  "And  tbe  first  iob  1  had  ™ 

she  went  out  an7h  y  Were  Very  nice  people-  but  one  day 

.°fut  and  he  came  *nto  the  kitchen  and—” 

out  JL  yo“freerfeeenngm  S  enC°Ura*i"*1^  °kay  »  cry.  Let 

He  came  into  the  kitchen  and  he  started  to  kiss  me  and  I 

sPo“f  t-  7d *e  ry  and  he  kiSSed  me  0n  my  "eck"  She  »  oryhlg 
oftly.  1  don  t  know  what  happened  after  that,  but  I  got  vrj 

was  happenmg  “>aShamed'  Then  She  Said  She  “"^‘ood  what 

“Cry  more!”  Meisner  says.  “Don't  be  afraid  to  let  yourself  go'" 

wo^ld  keenThe  h T  'l^9  movinSl>''  “She  said  she 

keep  the  baby,  and  so  she  told  everybody  that  she  was 

pregnant  and  she  stayed  in  the  house  for  nine  months.  And  I  had 

he  baby  and  she  took  him!”  Because  of  the  weeping  her  voice 

has  become  very  thin  and  high.  “And  now,  when  Fgo  to  political 

herself  P3USeS  m  3n  eff°«  t0  control 

tell  L  Z/Jery  ny^  tKinkS  1>m  Cryin^  because  he  speaks  so  1 

hat  s  not  it.  It  s  because  I  want  to  say, ‘That’s  my  son. 


“MAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN" 


165 


That’s  my  son!’  ”  She  covers  her  face  with  her  hands  and  contin¬ 
ues  to  sob. 

“That’s  right,”  Meisner  says.  “Well,  the  defects  are  technical, 
purely  technical.  We  can’t  understand  you.” 

“Okay,”  Bette  says  and  begins  to  laugh. 

“ That  's  what  I’m  talking  about!  Do  it  in  your  own  words,  and 
after  you’ve  done  it,  go  through  the  script  as  written,  then  go 
back  to  the  free  improvisation — always  prepared.” 

“Even  when  reading  it?”  Bette  asks. 

“Even  when  reading  it  and  when  telling  it.  Both.” 

“But  I  shouldn’t  look  in  the  book  to  check  some  words?” 

“No!  They’ll  gradually  come  to  you.” 


May  14 

“In  your  own  words,  tell  the  class  about  yourself.” 

“I  became  very  ill,”  Rachael  says  in  a  subdued  voice,  “which 
left  me  a  shell  of  myself.” 

“What  kind  of  surgery?  Don’t  guess,  it’s  quite  obvious.” 

“Cancer.” 

“You  left  the  hospital  a  shell  of  yourself,  which  is  the  way 
cancer  leaves  you.  Tell  them  the  story  as  it  occurs  to  you.” 

“I  had  cancer  and  I  had  surgery  for  it,  which  left  me  just  a  part 
of  myself.  On  my  wedding  anniversary,  when  I  felt  that  I  was 
somewhat  myself  again,  my  husband  and  I  went  for  a  walk  in  the 
woods.  We  talked  about  everything  but  what  we  were  really 
feeling,  and  we  tried  to  act  as  if  everything  was  as  it  always  had 
been.  But  it  wasn’t  the  same.  And  it  depressed  me  more  when 
he” — she  begins  to  cry  softly — “when  he  left  me  alone  for  a  few 
minutes,  and  I  saw  myself  in  the  mirror  and  realized  that  I  was 
really  half-dead!  And  that  I  might  as  well  be  completely  dead!” 
She  is  crying  fully,  the  tears  streaming  from  her  eyes.  “So  I  killed 
myself,  and  I  wondered  if  he  ever  understood  why.” 

“That’s  nice,”  Meisner  says  after  a  few  moments,  when  Ra¬ 
chael’s  emotion  begins  to  subside.  “What  you  ended  with  is  what 
you  should  prepare  for  and  then  begin  with.  The  preparation  has 
something  very  concrete;  it  has  to  do  with  a  once  young,  hopeful 


KTi^sThoMh her  life  is  realIy  over  and  how  she  f'-"1* 

ro.e,  not 

he  d.d  z?z z  r°rd  ? 

“,o£“  Andd-:'  **■>  -tifthe  em„;rsubys“re  1 

wo  Wh“  I  ptact.ce  ,t,  do  you  wan,  tne  to  do  i,  in  my  own 

^c=;;,rs=r- skm: 

Rachael  looks  pleased  and  the  class  laughs.  -I 

■» 

May  17 


“Which  one  is  it?” 

Another  suicide,”  Rose  Marie  says.  “  ‘Julia  Miller  ’  Sh  ,  i 
n.otph.n.  She,  ,hirty  years  oid  J  ntar^,“ 

“We  quarreled  that  morning, 

For  he  was  sixty-five,  and  I  was  thirty 

And  I  was  nervous  and  heavy  with  the  child 
Whose  birth  I  dreaded. 

I  thought  over  the  last  letter  written  me 
Ry  that  estranged  young  soul 
Whose  betrayal  of  me  I  had  concealed 
By  marrying  the  old  man. 

Then  I  took  morphine  and  sat  down  to  read 
Across  the  blackness  that  came  over  my  eyes 
see  the  flickering  light  of  these  words  even  now 
And  Jesus  said  unto  him,  Verily 
I  say  unto  thee,  To-day  thou  shalt 
Be  with  me  in  paradise.’  ” 


:<a 


“MAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN" 


16  7 


“That’s  a  difficult  one.  Why  is  it  difficult?”  < 

“The  text  is  based  on  the  hope  that  there  will  be  something 
better  for  me  and  my  baby  in  heaven.” 

“Do  you  hope  or  do  you  know?” 

“I  know.  God  will  be  there.” 

“How  do  you  feel  about  it?” 

“I  feel  relieved.  I’m  scared,  but  I’m  also  relieved.” 

.  “Relieved?” 

“I  feel  almost  happy.  They  can’t  touch  me  anymore.” 

“That’s  difficult,”  Meisner  says.  “Anything  that  has  to  do  with 
religious  pleasure  is  very  difficult  to  act.  I’ll  tell  you  a  story  as  an 
example  of  what  it  might  mean.  In  Florence,  Italy,  there’s  an  old 
monastery,  and  in  it  you  go  up  a  flight  of  steps  and  at  the  top 
there’s  a  landing,  and  on  the  far  wall  there’s  a  mural.  What  I  saw 
there  was  the  angel  telling  the  Virgin  Mary  about  the  future 
birth  of  Christ.  But  it  was  so  human,  so  inspired!  Mary’s  face!  I 
still  see  it  very  clearly.  She’s  still — ” 

“Are  you  saying  you  saw  a  painting  or  you  saw  a  vision?”  Rose 
Marie  asks. 

“I  saw  a  painting  by  Fra  Angelico  called  The  Annunciation.  My 
suggestion  is  that  you  treat  this  speech  as  if  it  were  a  prayer  in 
which  you,  having  taken  morphine,  know  you’re  going  to  die  and 
that  you’re  going  to  heaven.  There  life  is  going  to  be  full  of 
wonderful  peace  and  quiet  for  you.  That’s  quite  a  problem.  Do 
you  want  to  do  it?” 

“Yep.” 

“The  preparation  has  to  do  with  what?” 

“Absolute,  blinding  joy,  tears  of  joy  that  I’m  finally  getting  the 
one  thing  I  want.” 

“And  what  would  that  be?” 

“Pure  happiness.” 

“Okay.  Don’t  talk  about  it  any  more.  In  this  speech  that’s 
comparable  to  the  angel’s  announcement  to  Mother  Mary  that 
she’s  going  to  give  birth  to  Christ.  It’s  a  prayer  of  joy!” 

“Then  the  morphine  is  a  blessing?” 

“Yes,  that’s  a  good  way  to  look  at  it.  I  hate  to  talk  about  it  because 
it’s  so  delicate,  but  in  the  hush,  in  the  quiet  of  a  rare  moment  of  joy, 
you  open  your  heart.  Does  that  touch  anything  in  you?” 


168 


“Yes.” 

“Are  you  going  to  do  it  now?” 

•  ^  b  try  **•»  ^ose  Marie  says,  and  after  a  moment  she  continues. 

He  can  t  touch  me  anymore.  He  can’t  get  near  me.  I  don’t  even 
know  why  I  married  him.  Yeah,  I  know  why  I  married  him.”  She  1 
is  crying  quietly.  “He  .  .  .  saved  me  from  what  I  couldn’t  take. 
The  young  man  didn’t  want  me  anymore,  so — ”  Her  emotion 
renders  the  rest  of  the  phrase  unintelligible.  “I’m  nervous,  but 
I’m. not  really  .  .  .”  Because  of  the  crying,  her  speech  is  unclear. 
‘Because  I  know  that,  this  time,,  right  now,  I’m  coming  home!  I 
see  the  black  before  my  eyes,  but  I’m  not  afraid  of  that  either. 
Because  I  remember  reading— I  can’t  even  see  the  page— I  re¬ 
member  reading  that  very  soon  I’ll  be  home,  and  my  baby  will 
be  with  me.  And  nobody  can  . ...  nobody  can  ever  hurt  me  again!” 

“That’s  the  idea.  I  was  thinking  that  it’s  as  if  it  were  a  prayer 
to  the  one  saint  you  believe  in.  Are  you  a  good  Catholic?” 

I  m  lapsed,  but  there  was  a  time  when  I  prayed  to  the  saints  ” 

•  “Work  on  that.” 


May  21  ' 

was  sick’  but  more  than  that  I  was  mad  at  the  police  and  at  the 
crooked  game  of  life — ” 

“What’s  that  mean?” 

That  they  cheated  and  lied,  that  they’re  hypocrites,  and  I’m 
going  to  expose  them,”  Rachael  says.  “They’re  covering  up  ” 
“For  whom?”  ....  . 

“For  the  rich  guy  I  shot  and  killed.” 

What  was  he  doing  in  your  room?” 

“I  was  a  prostitute.” 

“Go  on.” 

So  i  wrote  to  the  chief  of  police  in  Peoria,  ‘I’m  here  in  my 
girlhood  home  of  Spoon  River  gradually  wasting  away.  But  come 
and  take  me.  I  killed  the  son  of  the  merchant  prince  in  Madam 
Lew’s.  The  newspapers  that  said  he  killed  himself  in  his  home 
while  cleaning  a  hunting  gun  lied  like  the  devil  to  hush  up  the 
scandal  for  the  bribe  of  advertising.” 


169 


“MAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN" 

“For  what?” 

“The  newspapers  were  bribed.  His  father  owns  the  town. 

“G°  on.”  , 

“I  shot  him  at  Madam  Lew’s  because  he  knocked  me  down 
when  I  said  that  in  spite  of  all  the  money  he  had,  I  was  going  to 
see  my  lover  that  night.  I  insulted  him,  so  he  knocked  me  down 
and  I  shot  him.” 

“And  who  was  your  lover?” 

The  question  has  not  occurred  to  Rachel,  and  she  is  at  a  loss 
for  words. 

“It  doesn’t  say  in  the  text.  You’ve  got  to  make  it  up  out  of  your 
imagination,”  Meisner  says.  “Look  here.  The  questions  I’m  ask¬ 
ing  you  are  not  technical  questions  as  such;  they’re  imaginative 
questions.  This  is  part  of  a  process  called  ‘making  the  part  your 
own.’  Suppose  that  you  had  told  this  rich  man’s  son,  ‘I’m  not 
going  to  sleep  with  you  tonight.  I’m  going  to  sleep  with  Tony, 
who  drives  your  father’s  coal  truck.  He's  my  real  lover,  not  you! 
And  when  you  taunted  him  with  this,  he  got  so  furious  that  he 
dropped  the  gun.  You  picked  it  up  and  shot  him.  But  the  police 
and  newspapers  are  so  corrupt  that  they’d  never  report  such  a 
scandal.  Do  you  remember  what  they  did  when  Rockefeller 
died?” 

“I  was  thinking  about  that  the  whole  time,”  Bette  says. 

“The  hypocrisy,  the  deceit,  the  corruption  of  the  newspapers 
sickened  you,  right?  Finally,  since  you’re  dying  anyhow,  you  say, 
‘Here’s  the  truth,  you  bastards!’  This  strikes  me  as  someone  tak¬ 
ing  revenge  with  such  relish — ” 

“Very  pleased  with  herself,”  Rachael  says. 

“Very!  ‘Everybody  knows  you’re  a  crook  and  nobody  wants  to 
tell  you  but  me.  Now  go  do  something  about  it!’  You  see?  This 
is  ‘making  the  part  your  own.’  The  process  of  filling  a  cold  text 
with  your  life  is  what  this  process  is  in  a  nutshell.” 

“Sandy,”  Bette  says.  “I  loved  what  you  just  did  with  Rachael. 
Those  are  the  questions  that  I  have  to  learn  how  to  ask.” 

“That’s  the  way  you  work  on  a  part.  Work  on  these  speeches 
has  everything  to  do  with  interpretation.  My  provocative  remark 
is  that  by  doing  the  Spoon  Rivers  you  all  should  have  learned 
something  very  substantial  and  clarified  about  how  you  approach 


a  character.  Suppose  an  actor  who  was  about  to  play  Othello  said  1 
to  the  director,  ‘Explain  this  jealousy  thing  to  me.’  What  does 
that  imply?” 

“I’d  think  that  he  should  never  play  the  part,”  Bette  says. 

“No  doubt  about  that.  How  does  one  know  that  Othello  is  about 
great  love  and  great  jealousy?” 

“You  read  the  text  and  it  hits  you,”  Beth  says.  “It  hits  some¬ 
thing  'in  you.”  • 

“It  hits  you.  I  like  that  phrase.  It  hits  you.  There  are  some 
people  in  this  class  who  are  very  concerned  with  the  problem  of 
character.  But  what  is  character?  How  do  you  answer  that  ques¬ 
tion?”  :  •.  ..  .  ..  :...  .  ..  . 

“Why  are  you  looking  at  me?”  John  asks. 

“Your  questions  have  concerned  me  because  to  me  they  mean 
that  you  have  an  inorganic  preoccupation  with  character.  What 
does  that  mean?  ‘Inorganic  preoccupation  with  character’?” 

“It’s  mental,”  Bette  says. 

“Where  do  you  get  it  from?” 

“Your  brain.  From  outside.” 

“Where  should  you  get  it  frbm?” 

“Your  guts.” 

“What  you  do  and  how  you  feel  about  the  script  which  makes 
you  do  what  you  do  determines  the  character.  I  would  think  that 
the  Spoon  River  pieces  have  contributed  hugely  to  your  knowl¬ 
edge  of  how  you  find  the  character  in  you.  Let’s  talk  about  charac¬ 
ter.  Let’s  see  what  this  means  to  you.  I  once  asked  you  out  of  the 
sheer  devilment  that’s  a  part  of  me,  ‘How  many  of  you  are  not 
learning  anything?’  Do  you  remember?  Do  you  remember  Vin¬ 
cent,  who  said  he  wasn’t?” 

“I’ll  never  forget  it,”  Bette  says. 

“And  what  did  I  do?  I  threw  him  out.  So  you  saw  two  sides  of 
my  character.  My  mischievousness  and  my  conceit.  Character, 
you  can  say,  is  determined  by  what  you  do.” 

“And  how  you  do  it,  right?”  Rose  Marie  asks. 

“That  depends  on  you  and  your  imagination.  The  emotion 
comes  with  how  you’re  doing  what  you’re  doing.  If  you  go  from 
moment  to  moment,  and  each  moment  has  a  meaning  for  you,  the 
emotion  keeps  flowing.  L  would  sum  it  up  by  saying  that  the 


jpl’MAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN"  1  7  1 

interpretation  is  best  found  in  what  really  moves  you.  Not  com¬ 
plicated,  not  necessarily  original.  You.  It’s  you.  And  I  think  that 
much  has  been  learned  from  this  work  on  the  Spoon  Rivers,  don’t 
■  you?” 

May  24 


“What’s  the  matter?”  Meisner  asks  Ray. 

“I  felt  on  the  spot,  so  I  was  a  little  uncomfortable,  though  I 
forgot  about  you.” 

“Oh,  to  hell  with  me.  Listen,  you  played  the  villain  in  The 
Octoroon.  Do  you  know  what  that  is?” 

“I  don’t  know  what  The  Octoroon  is.  I  assumed  when  I  did  the 
poem  that  it  was  some  pageant  that  happened  around  Hallow¬ 
een.” 

“No,  it’s  a  famous  play  with  a  wonderful  villain.  Make  them 
laugh  by  the  way  you  do  that  line.” 

“  ‘I  played  the  coronet  and  I  painted  pictures  and  I  modeled 
clay — ’  ”  Ray’s  voice  has  risen  an  octave  and  then  plunges  into  a 
full  bass  register  for  the  end  of  the  line:  “  ‘And  I  played  the  villain 
in  The  Octoroon.  ’  ” 

“Twirl  your  moustache,”  Meisner  says. 

Ray  twirls  an  enormous  imaginary  moustache  and  the  class 
laughs. 

“What  does  your  family  think  of  you?” 

“They  think  I’m  a  genius.” 

“Act  out  that  you’re  a  genius,”  Meisner  says,  and  he  points  to 
his  brain  with  the  index  finger  of  each  of  his  hands.  The  class 
laughs  again. 

“Oh,”  Ray  says  timidly,  “that  kind  of  thing.”  Without  any 
gesture  he  continues,  “They  thought  I  was  a  genius.” 

“No,”  Meisner  says.  “I  mean — ”  and  he  makes  a  broad,  slight¬ 
ly  wacky  gesture  of  pointing  to  his  cranium  with  both  index  fin¬ 
gers. 

Ray  repeats  the  gesture  and  says,  “  ‘My  parents  thought  I  was 
going  to  be  as  great  as  Edison,  or  greater.’  ”,  He  laughs  nervously 
and  says,  “I  don’t  know  what  to  do.  I’m  stuck.” 


'172  .  ;*j| 

That  s  okay.  Jump  to  the  end  of  the  speech.  Now  you’ve 
thought  it  through.  What  was  the  truth  about  yourself?” 

“  ‘The  truth  was  this — ’  ” 

“Jump  up!”  Meisner  exclaims,  and  Ray  does  so  before  complet¬ 
ing  the  line:  ‘“I  didn’t  have  the  brains.’  ”  The  class  laughs. 

“You  see,  what  I’m  telling  you  is  to  find,  like  The  Octoroon , 
elements  you  can  act  out  almost  in  pantomime  which  tell  us  what 
that’s  all  about.  For  example,  ‘I  studied  and  I  studied  and  I  stud¬ 
ied!’  ”  And  with  each  repetition  Meisner  bangs  his  fist  on  his 
head.  .  .  :  " 

“I  see,”  Ray  says.  “  ‘ Thinking ,  thinking,  thinking!"'  he  says,  at¬ 
tempting  to  duplicate  the  gesture  Meisner  has  given  him. 

“Yes,”  Meisner  says,  “but  with  a  sense  of  the  ridiculous.  ‘I  was 
thinking!’  ”  His  index  finger  grinds  like  a  drill  bit  into  his  brain. 
“Do  you  follow?” 

I  do,  Ray  says,  but  I  would  have  been  afraid  to  do  that 

before  seeing  you.  You  know  what  I  mean?” 

“I  guess  I  lenow  what  you  mean.  You  think  you’d  be  indicat¬ 
ing.” 

“Exactly.”  ' 

“I  would  tell  you  if  you  were.  This  particular  Spoon  River  lends 
itself  to  dramatizing  all  the  nonsense.  ‘Do  you  know  what  the 
truth  of  the  matter  is?’  ”  Meisner  asks,  pointing  to  his  head  and 
crossing  his  eyes.  The  class  laughs.  “You  were  afraid  to  do  that.” 

“Yep,  I  was.  What’s  interesting  is  that  it’s  the  kind  of  acting 
I  used  to  do  most  easily,”  Ray  says,  laughing,  “before  this  class. 
Not  with  the  emotion  behind  it,  but  that  sort  of  broad  cliche.  I 
would  hit  those  cliches  real  hard.” 

“Well,  there’s  nothing  wrong  with  a  cliche  if  it  belongs.  What’s 
that  mean?” 

It  means  that  if  the  style  lends  itself,  and  the  emotion  is  real 
behind  what  you  re  doing,  a  clichd  can  enhance  the  piece  instead 
of  make  it  worse.” 

“Right,”  Meisner  says.  “Say  ‘a  can  of  peas’  to  me.” 

“ ‘A  can  of  peas,”’ Ray  says.  . 

Meisner  reacts  broadly,  yet  believably,  as  if  in  saying  the  p  in 
“peas”  Ray  has  spit  in  his  eye.  “Why  can’t  you  do  that?” 

“Oh,  I  can.  Honest,  I  can,”  Ray  says. 


173 


“MAKING  THE  PART  YOUR  OWN" 


Meisner  pulls  the  right  side  of  his  suit  jacket  open,  peers  into 
the  inside  pocket  and  whispers,  “Did  you  hear  what  he  said?” 
The  class  laughs  and  Bette  applauds.  “Farce  comedy!  Please  don’t 
make  all  these  pieces  momentous.  Did  you  ever  hear  Beethoven’s 
Fur  Elise?  I  can’t  sing.  It  goes  ta,  ra,  ta,  ra,  ta,  ta,  ra,  ta,  ra,  ta.  It’s 
a  simple,  kind  of  naive  piece  of  music,  but  it’s  by  Beethoven,  so  it 
better  be  deep!  Wrong!  Don’t  try  to  work  too  significantly.” 

Ray  nods. 

“Ask  me  how  old  my  mother  was  when  she  died.” 

“How  old  was  your  mother  when  she  died?”  Ray  asks. 

“She  was  eighty-five!”  Meisner  exclaims  in  such  a  way  that  the 
meaning  is,  Isn’t  it  wonderful  she  lived  to  such  a  ripe  old  age! 
“Ask  me  again.” 

“How  old  was  your  mother  when  she  died?” 

Meisner  seems  about  to  burst  into  tears,  and  can  hardly  answer 
the  question.  “She  was,”  he  says,  “eighty  .  .  .  five.”  The  class 
laughs.  “Now,  that's  a  cliche:  mother — dying — you’ve  got  to  cry. 
Do  you  know,”  Meisner  asks  with  great  solemnity,  “I  happened 
to  hear  that  there  are  teachers  of  acting  who  can’t  teach  unless 
they  feel  deeply.  Ask  me  what  I  had  for  breakfast  this  morning.” 
“Sandy,  what  did  you  have  for  breakfast  this  morning?” 

The  class  begins  to  titter  because  Meisner  seems  so  full  of 
emotion  that  he  can  hardly  speak.  Finally  he  forces  himself  to 
say,  “Corn  .  .  .  flakes.”  The  class  laughs.  “You  follow?  It’s  got  to 
be  deep,  or  otherwise  how  can  I  be  a  good  teacher?  But  I’m  here 
to  say,  ‘Be  yourself!  Accept  whatever  comes  out  spontaneously!’ 
If  you’re  treating  it  too  casually  or  too  deeply,  I’ll  be  the  first  to 
tell  you!” 

I! 

“Sandy,”  Scott  Roberts  says,  “in  the  early  1940s— after  the 
Group  Theatre  folded — you  directed  three  plays  on  Broadway. 
Were  you  dissatisfied  with  being  an  actor  and  did  you  think, 
‘Maybe  I’ll  direct  as  well  as  teach?’  ” 

“I  think  I  went  any  way  the  wind  blew  me,”  Meisner  says. 
He  takes  a  sip  of  his  drink.  They  are  sitting  in  the  living  room 


of  Meisner’s  apartment.  The  play  Scott  has  directed  for  the  Cir¬ 
cle  Repertory  Company  is  about  to  open,  and  he  has  come  by  to 
take  Meisner  to  a  preview. 

“I. wasn’t  a  very  good  director,”  Meisner  says.  “The  reason  is 
that  I  don’t  handle  adults  very  well.  I  don’t  have  confidence. 
Something  in  my  psyche  makes  me  restricted  and  inhibited  by 
adults,  and  so  I  was  timid  about  my  authority.  This  is  in  contrast 
to  the  Playhouse,  where  I  did  really  good  productions  and 
worked  with  freedom.  As  I  thought  about  it  later,  I  realized  that 
I  had  retained  what  I  did  as  a  child,  when  I  directed  pageants 
with  my  cousins.  I  could  deal  with  young  people,  but  I  couldn’t 
deal  authoritatively  with  established  adults.  I  have  always  thought 
this  was  one' of  the  reasons  that  I  didn’t  become  a  good  direc¬ 
tor,  because  otherwise  I  have  all  the  elements  for  it.  With  the 
students  at  the  Playhouse  I  was  in  the  same  relationship  as  I  was 
with  my  kid  cousins  when  I  was  thirteen.” 

“In  the  class,”  Scott  says,  “is  that  the  problem  with  Lila?” 

“Yes,  but  I  treat  her  like  a  young  child,”  Meisner  says. 

“Yes,  you  do.” 

“See?  I  don’t  treat  her  like  somebody  with  a  reputation.  I  know 
what  her  problems  are  as  an  actor,  and  I  go  after  them.  But  all 
those  people  have  a  certain  relationship  to  me,  which  is  that  of 
teacher /student.  Within  that,  where  I  am  and  have  to  be  the 
authority,  I  function.  I  don’t  know  what  it  would  be  like  now. 
Now  I  don’t  care  one  way  or  another.” 

“About  being  a  director?”  Scott  asks. 

“Yeah.  Or  acting,  for  that  matter.  It’s  the  theater  that  interests 
me,  not  acting.  I  don’t  like  actors  very  much,  though  I  do  like  to 
act.  It’s  enjoyable— sometimes.  But  I  don’t  like  what  it  brings  to 
the  surface  in  my  personality:  the  self-centeredness,  the  childish 
vanity,  the  infantilism.  That’s  what  an  actor  has  to  have.” 

Scott  looks  at  his  watch. 

“You’re  right,”  Meisner  says  and  stands  up  stiffly.  “Let’s  go 
take  a  look  at  your  play.” 


11! 


Some  Thoughts  on  Actors  and  on  Acting* 

student:  Sandy,  you  wanted  one  of  us  to  ask 

you  about  punctuation  in  acting. 

meisner:  Punctuation  is  emotional,  not  grammatical. 

If  you  say,  “To  be  [pause]  or  not  to  be  [pause ] 

that  [/  pause ]  is  the  question,”  there  are  three  commas, 

three  emotional  commas,  and  an  exclamation 

point  in  those  lines,  but  they’re  not  on  the  paper. 


“A  girl,  is  seduced  when  she  is  eight,  so  everybody  thinks  she  is 
a  whore  and  has  nothing  to  do  with  her.  Then  a  newcomer 
arrives  in  town;  he  marries  her  and  then  finds  out  about  her  past 
and  abandons  her.  After  that  she  just  dies  from  not  wanting  to 
live  anymore.  That’s  sad,  don’t  you  agree? 

“Now  there  are  many  ways  of  expressing  your  sadness.  You 
don’t  have  to  cry.  But  you  cannot  be  almost  empty  emotionally, 


"The  observations  presented  in  this  chapter  were  made  during  the  thirteen 
months  the  class  was  in  session.  They  are  grouped  by  topic  and  not,  as  in 
the  rest  of  this  book,  by  date. 


176 

because  your  history  is  too  strong.  Christ  on  the  cross  must  have 
been  in  unimaginable  agony,  but  He  didn’t  cry.  He  held  back. 
But  in  order  to  hold  back,  you  have  to  have  something  to  bold.  ” 

“Fanny  Brice,  an  incredible  comic,  told  me  that  whenever  she 
went  on  the  stage  she  was  like  this — ”  Meisner’s  hands  tremble 
violently.  “And  this  was  at  the  end  of  her  career  when  her  name 
was  like  that — ”  He  holds  his  hands  one  above  the  other,  about 
two  feet  apart.  “And  the  title  was  like  this — ”  His  hands  are  six 
inches  apart.  “So  you’re  going  to  be  nervous!  Be  nervous!  Did  you 
ever  hear  that  line — every  actor  knows  it — ‘I  thought  I’d  die  until 
I  got  my  first  laugh!’  You  follow?  The  first  laugh  means  ‘We  love 
you.’  ” 

“That  was  very  good.” 

“I  lost  the  words.” 

“That’s  nothing.  Let  me  tell  you  something,  all  of  you.  Sarah, 
you  were  really  acting.  The  moments  were  coming  spontane¬ 
ously,  and  they  had  a  meaning  for  you.  God  knows  they’ve  tried, 
but  psychoanalysts  really  don’t  know  where  talent  comes  from. 
But  one  of  the  possibilities  is  that  what  gives  talent  life,  what 
makes  it  occur,  comes  in  part  out  of  people’s  lack  of  confidence, 
out  of  their  feeling  that  they’re  not  loved.  Now,  what  made  me 
think  of  that?  Well,  any  of  the  negative  experiences  that  life  has 
to  ofiFer  have  impacts  of  varying  degrees.  One  of  them  is  the 
feeling  you’re  going  to  be  told  that  you’re  wrong,  that  you’re  bad 
and  unlovable  when  you’re  this  high — ”  Meisner’s  hand  indicates 
the  height  of  a  small  child.  “But  this  feeling  that  you’re  being 
mistreated,  that  you’re  no  good,  which  is  a  holdover  from  way 
back  when  you  were  almost  an  infant,  can  be  a  potent  force  in 
your  acting.  But  the  confidence  that  permits  you  to  say  ‘I  am 
somebody’  takes  a  long  time  to  become  secure  in  you.  The  prob¬ 
lem  arises  when' that  feeling  of  worthlessness  is  juxtaposed  with 
something  that  is  part  and  parcel  of  this  business — namely,  that 
you  can’t  learn  to  act  unless  you’re  criticized.  If  you  tie  that 


SOME  THOUGHTS  ON  ACTORS  AND  ON  ACTING 


177 


criticism  to  your  childhood  insecurities,  you  have  a  terrible  time. 
Instead,  you  must,  take  criticism  objectively,  pertaining  only  to 
the  work  being  done.  Imagine  if  you  said  to  a  plumber,  ‘I  don  t 
think  you  plunged  that  toilet  well,’  and  he  burst  into  tears!  It  s 
only  in  the  creative  arts  that  self-confidence  is  such  a  problem. 
Now,  if  Sarah  did  that  speech  many  times,  and  if  each  time 
people  said,  ‘You  were  lovely,’— her  self-confidence  would 
bloom!  A  good  notice  is  like  a  kiss  on  your  cheek.” 


“There’s  one  thing  that’s  clearly  absent  from  this  reading,  Bette. 
You  had  it  at  the  beginning  and  then  you  gave  it  up.  What  was 
it,  do  you  know?” 

“Contact?” 

“A  point  of  view.  Look,  I’ll  show  you  something.  Beth,  tell  me 
something  about  the  life  of  your  character. 

“My  life?”  Beth,  Bette’s  partner,  says  quietly.  “It  doesn’t  seem 
too  bright.  My  life  seems  kind  of  hopeless.” 

“Uh-huh!”  Meisner  says  with  a  kind  of  ravenous  enjoyment. 

“It  looks  bleak,”  Beth  continues. 

“Ah,”  Meisner  says  with  malicious  pleasure. 

“You  think  that’s  funny?”  Beth  asks  in  annoyance. 

“No,”  Meisner  says,  smiling  gleefully. 

“You  act  like  you  seem  to  enjoy  it!” 

“I  don’t  mean  to,”  Meisner  says  in  a  conciliatory  voice  and 
then  continues.  “You  see,  Bette,  there  was  a  consistent  point  of 
view  in  my  reaction  to  Beth.  It’s  like  this.  He  pauses.  My 
grandmother  died  a  week  ago,’  ‘Oh,’  ’  he  says,  smiling  in  delight, 
“  ‘you’ve  got  to  be  kidding!’  ‘Yeah,  she  was  cremated.’  ‘Ahooh!’  ” 
Meisner  says  with  exaggerated  false  sympathy,  and  the  class 
laughs.  “It  doesn’t  have  to  be  logical.  ‘My  grandmother  was  cre¬ 
mated  two  weeks  ago.’  ”  He  claps  his  hands  together  in  exuberant 
joy  and  says,  “  ‘What  a  pity!’  ” 

Again  the  class  laughs. 

“Do  you  understand,  Bette?  It’s  the  opposite  of  what  it  should 
be.  It’s  opposite.  You  follow?” 

“Sort  of.  I  think  so,”  she  says  hesitantly. 


178 


“Ray,  do  you  understand  what  I  said  to  her?” 

Ray  nods  but  doesn’t  speak. 

“Look,  tell  me  something.  Tell  me  something  tragic.” 

“My  sister  has  leukemia,”  Ray  says. 

“That’s  fatal!”  Meisner  says,  positively  savoring  the  tragedy. 

The  class  laughs. 

“ That's  the  way  you  should  do  this  part.  What  I  did  with  Ray 
is  what  I  think  you  should  do.” 

“Okay.” 

“What’s  your  response  when  I  tell  you  that  my  sister  has  leuke¬ 
mia?  What  do  you  do?”  ' 

“I  laugh,”  Bette  says. 

“Let  me  hear  that.” 

With  a  contented  smile  Bette  chuckles  quietly  and  says 
through  lightly  clenched  teeth,  “That’s  fatal,”  and  the  class 
laughs  again.  “Okay,  I’ve  got  it,”  she  continues.  “Oh,  God,  I’ve 
got  it!” 


“The  first  thing  you  have  to  do  when  you  read  a  text  is  to  find 
yourself — really  find  yourself.  First  you  find  yourself,  then  you 
find  a  way  of  doing  the  part  which  strikes  you  as  being  in  charac¬ 
ter.  Then,  based  on  that  reality,  you  have  the  nucleus  of  the  role. 
Otherwise  every  shmuck  from  Erasmus  Hall  High  School  is  an 
actor  because  everyone  there  knows  how  to  read.  Let’s  say  the 
script  has  the  line  ‘Oh,  I  forgot.’  Along  comes  the  star  of  the 
Erasmus  Hall  High  School  Dramatic  Club,  and  what  you  get  is, 
‘Oh,  I  forgot.’  It  is  a  straightforward  but  uninteresting  reading 
of  the  words.  Bur  then  you  get  the  dope  who  never  went  to 
school,  and  he  says,  ‘Oh!’  ”  Meisner’s  fists  go  to  his  temples  in  a 
moment  of  painful  recollection.  A  long  pause  follows  during 
which  he  realizes  that  it’s  too  late  now  and  he  must  make  the  best 
of  it.  Finally,  almost  with  a  shrug  of  his  shoulders,  he  says  casu¬ 
ally,  “  ‘I  forgot.’  Which  one  is  the  actor?” 

“The  dope,”  Bette  says. 

“Anybody  can  read.  But  acting  is  living  under  imaginary  cir¬ 
cumstances.  A  script — I  may  have  said  this  before — a  script  is  like 
a  libretto.  You  know  what  a  libretto  is,  don’t  you?” 


179 


SOME  THOUGHTS  ON  ACTORS  AND  ON  ACTING 

“It’s  the  text  to  which  the  composer  adds  music  in  an  opera,” 
Ray  says. 

“Right.  The  composer  reads  on  the  paper,  ‘How  cold  your 
hand  is!’  and  the  musician  in  him  translates  that  into  a  glorious 
melody.  An  actor  is  like  a  composer.  What  you  read  in  the  book 
is  only  the  merest  indication  of  what  you  have  to  do  when  you 
really  act  the  part.” 


“What  a  profession!  I’ve  been  teaching  acting  for  forty-seven 
years.  I  started  when  I  was  seven,  and  now  I’m  fifty-four.”  The 
class  laughs.  “What’s  so  funny?” 

■  “When  did  you  start  teaching?”  Joseph  asks.  “In  1935?” 

“Yeah,  about  then.” 

“You  were  still  working  with  the  Group  Theatre,  right? 

“Until  1940,  the  year  it  ended.” 

“Where  did  you  start  teaching— here,  the  Neighborhood  Play¬ 
house?”  „ 

“Professionally,  here.  I  did  my  apprenticeship  at  various  places. 

“How  did  you  start  teaching  here?” 

“Through  my  friend  Clifford  Odets.” 

“Really?” 

“He  had  a  girlfriend  who  was  a  student  here,  and  they  were 
looking  for  somebody  to  come  in  and  direct  their  final  play.  She 
had  suggested  him,  but  Awake  and  Sing!  had  just  opened  and  he 
was  famous — the  cover-of-Time  kind  of  famous.  So  he  said  to  me 
— he  was  my  best  friend — ‘You  go.’  ” 

“Was  Martha  Graham  teaching  here  then?” 

“Yes.  She  taught  the  movement  classes  for  years. 

“Do  you  still  play  the  piano?” 

“I  quit.  On  Bequia  I  play  the  church  organ.” 

“This  is  very  indiscreet  of  me,  so  promise  that  you’ll  only  tell  it 
to  thirty  people.  A  woman  by  the  name  of  Mrs.  Cartier  they 
have  a  little  jewelry  shop  on  Fifth  Avenue  is  after  me  this  is 
true — to  meet  with  a  group  of  her  friends.  They  want  to  know 
more  about  acting,  so  that  when  they  pay  forty  dollars  a  ticket 


180 


for  a  show,  they’ll  know  why  they’re  being  cheated.  This  kept  me 
up  almost  the  whole  night.  They  want  a  course.” 

“Are  you  serious?”  Joseph  asks. 

“There’s  a  play  in  there  somewhere,”  Bette  says. 

“Such  an  old-fashioned  play.  She  called  last  night.” 

“Maybe  they’ll  learn  something,”  Joseph  says. 

“Who  gives  a  shit?” 

“They  probably  don’t  know  what  good  acting  is,”  Joseph  says. 

“Most  people  don’t,  Can  you  imagine  Mrs.  Cartier  and  Mrs. 
Guggenheim  doing  the  word  repetition?” 

“  ‘I  love  your  tiara.’  ‘You  love  my  tiara?’  ”  Ralph  says  and  the 
class  laughs. 

“Once  in  California,  I  gave  a  speech  at  a  big  theater  downtown, 
and  I  talked  about  the  things  that  I  have  always  believed  in.  But 
at  the  end  somebody  said,  ‘What  can  we  do?  This  is  Hollywood.’ 
And  I  answered,  ‘I  have  never  let  myself  forget  what  the  theater 
can  be,  and  I’ll  stick  to  my  guns.’  What  else  can  I  do?  I  was  in 
the  Group  Theatre.  That  was  something.  I  couldn’t  speak  to  Mrs. 
Cartier  the  way  I  talk  to  you.,  She’s  a  nice  woman.  She’s  got  a 
thirty-seven-carat  diamond  ring,  but  she’s  a  nice  woman.  Believe 
me,  I’ve  got  nothing  against  that  diamond.” 

“Sandy,”  Ray  says,  “are  there  ever  any  circumstances  in' a  play 
when  you  can  legitimately  decide  that  your  character  is  trying  to 
hide  his  real  feelings?” 

“You  wouldn’t  hide  them.  You  wouldn’t  try.  You’d  have  them, 
but  you  wouldn’t  let  them  out.  You  follow?” 

“No.  Don’t  Chekhov’s  people  always  hide  what  they’re  feel¬ 
ing?  I  mean,  they  feel  it,  but  they  try  to  hide  it.” 

“Ah,  Chekhov!  That’s  a  big  question.  The  Three  Sisters*  opens 
with  Masha,  the  middle  sister,  bored  to  death.  Her  speech  begin¬ 
ning,  ‘Father  died  a  year  ago  today,’  is  full  of  melancholy,  but  she 
is  not  sitting  shivah.  She  talks  about  the  past  with  a  certain  mood. 

The  events  described  in  the  following  are  out  of  sequence;  however,  their 
emotional  importance  is  accurately  conveyed. 


SOME  THOUGHTS  ON  ACTORS  AND  ON  ACTING 


181 


Then  Masha’s  husband,  a  teacher  who’s  a  big  bore,  comes  in.  He 
comes  to  get  her  but  she  hates  him  and  sends  him  away,  saying 
she’ll  come  home  in  a  minute.  Then  Vershinin  comes  in  and 
fascinates  the  whole  family  with  his  personality.  After  a  long 
time,  Masha — who  hasn’t  said  a  word,  not  one  word — suddenly 
announces,  ‘I  think  I’ll  stay  to  lunch!’  Now,  why  does  she  do 
that?” 

“You  tell  me.” 

“She’s  fallen  madly  in  love  with  Vershinin.  But  she  doesn’t  say 
a  word  to  him  and  he  hardly  knows  she’s  in  the  room.” 

“So  does  the  actress  playing  Masha  try  to  hide  from  the  others 
the  fact  that  she’s  falling  in  love  with  him?” 

“His  being  there  changes  her.  He  says  something  which  in¬ 
spires  her,  or  she  thinks  he’s  sexy.  Who  knows?  The  point  is,  it’s 
typical  Chekhov,  and  the  emotion  is  entirely  internal.  She  doesn’t 
do  anything,  does  she?” 

“Not  until  she  says,  ‘I  think  I’ll  stay  to  lunch.’  ” 

“Until  then.  But  she  started  out  the  act  by  complaining,  ‘I’ve 
got  to  go  home.  God  help  me!’  That  radical  change  in  her  is 
entirely  internal.  In  the  first  line  of  The  Seagull,  another  teacher, 
Medvedenko,  says  to  another  Masha,  ‘Why  do  you  always  wear 
black?’  And- she  says,  ‘I’m  in  mourning  for  my  life.’  Can  you 
imagine  how  many  choices  the  actress  has  to  motivate  that  line? 
Maybe  she  decides  that  Masha  is  in  love  with  her  father,  maybe 
she  has  never  been  in  love.  The  actress  has  to  choose  something, 
and  then  hide  it  behind  a  smile  as  if  it  were  a  joke.” 

“So  there  are  certain  cases  where  you  feel  something  inside  and 
yet  hide  it.” 

“No,  you’ve  got  to  give  some  indication  that  you  think  of  it  as 
a  joke  in  order  to  mask  the  truth,  which  is  that  you  wear  black 
because  you  are  literally  in  mourning  for  your  life.  Do  you  un¬ 
derstand  the  difference?  Chekhov  writes  from  such  a  deep  source! 
At  the  end  of  The  Cherry  Orchard,  Madame  Ranyevskaia  says  to  the 
man  who’s  chopping  down  the  cherry  trees,  ‘So  long!’  It’s  rather 
cheery,  but  it  happens  to  be  the  end  of  an  era!  Chekhov  is  terri¬ 
ble!” 

“Why?”  Ray  asks. 

“Because  he’s  so  inscrutable.” 


182 

“What  writers  aren’t  terrible?” 

“Chekhov,”  Meisner  says.  “But  look  how  difficult  he  is.  A  line 
says,  ‘Ivan,  bring  me  a  pound  of  tomatoes  from  the  market,’  and 
the  stage  direction  reads,  ‘She  bursts  into  tears.’  ”  The  class 
laughs.  es,  he’s  wonderful,  but  there’s  no  question  but  that  he’s 
very  difficult!” 


“I  have  one  more  question,  but  it  has  nothing  to  do  with  class,” 
John  says.  “I  want  to  know  about  when  you  were  in  the  Group 
Theatre  and  Stella  Adler  came  back  from  Paris  and  said,  ‘Listen, 
what’s  going  on  here  with  Lee  Strasberg  isn’t  what  Stanislavsky 
really  meant  at  all,’  ”  John  says.  “Did  you  and  the  other  actors 
suspect  that  your  work  process  wasn’t  right  even  before  Stella 
talked  to  Stanislavsky?” 

“It  wasn’t  prevalent.  They  may  have  had  suspicions,  but  that’s 
all.  Among  other  things,  she  brought  back  ‘given  circumstances’ 
— how  you  get  to  the  essence  of ‘given  circumstances.’  You  know, 
Stella  and  Strasberg  were  enemies  even  before  we  started  the 
Group.  She  said,  ‘He’s  a  fake’  before  we  ever  began.” 

“  Then  how  do  you  explain  the  quality  of  acting  of  some  of  his 
students?”  Ray  asks.  “You  say  you  can  show  somebody  the  best 
way  to  bring  out  the  best  acting  that  he  or  she  can  do.  But 
underneath  it  all  is  talent ,  and  you  don’t  know  what  that  is.  You 
know  that  it  has  something  to  do  with  imagination,  but  you  don’t 
know  what — nobody  does.  So  it  seems  to  me  that  if  what  Stras¬ 
berg  did  was,  in  effect,  to  introvert  actors  who  were  already 
introverted,  to  make  them  have  private  experiences  on  stage  that 
aren  t  expressed,  then  the  people  that  came  out  of  his  classes  and 
his  technique  and  acted  beautifully  must  have  done  so  in  spite  of 
the  training.” 

“That’s  right.  Like  who?” 

“Pacino.” 

“A1  Pacino  has  been  that  way  for  twenty-five  years!” 

I  think  so  too — as  an  actor,  as  a  talent  and  as  an  individual. 
But  isn’t  that  always  true?”  Ray  asks. 

“What  do  you  mean?” 


183 


SOME  THOUGHTS  ON  ACTORS  AND  ON  ACTING 

-■  “What  I  mean  is  that  if  you  can’t  act,  you  can’t  act,  right?” 
“Right.” 

“But  if  you  can  act  very  well,  if  you’re  one.of  those  people  who 
let  beautiful  acting  come  out  of  them  because  that’s  the  way 
they’re  made,  then  you  can  do  it  under  any  circumstances.” 

“Yes,  and  you  know  what?  Strasberg  would  see  that  talent  and 
invite  someone  to  join  the  Studio,  all  those  famous,  talented  peo¬ 
ple,  and  then  say  later,  ‘He  was  my  student!’  ” 

“Did  he  do  that  with  Duvall?”  Joseph  asks. 

“Duvall  studied  with  me.” 

<i  “I  know  he  studied  with  you  first,  but  he  also  went  to  the 
Studio  afterwards.” 

“To  work  on  himself,  not  to  learn  to  act!  It’s  quite  different.” 

“What  do  you  mean,  ‘to  work  on  himself?” 

“It  was  a  place  where  there  were  other  actors.  That  was  the 
merit  of  the  Actors  Studio.” 

“To  get  back  to  what  I  asked,”  John  says,  “when  Stella  came 
back  from  Paris,  did  the  two  of  you  have  a  series  of  meetings — 
just  the  two  of  you — where  she  said,  ‘Sandy,  this  is  really  what 
it’s  about’?” 

“Clurman.  Harold  Clurman  was  there  too.” 

“And  the  three  of  you  started  working  out  this  system  we’re 
learning  now?” 

“More  or  less,  yes,  though  Stella  doesn’t  teach  the  way  I  do.” 

“Not  at  all!”  Rose  Marie  says. 

“Did  you  develop  the  repetition  exercise  then?”  Ralph  asks. 

“No,  much  later.  I  invented  it  with  people  in  my  classes.” 

“How  did  you  know  that  was  the  way  to  go?”  Joseph  asks. 

“Instinct.” 

“You  knew  that  if  the  partners  repeated  lines  back  and  forth, 
the  very  repetition  would  give  rise  to  something  new— that  it 
would  change  organically?” 

“Yes,  I  more  or  less  knew  that.  I  found  out  by  working  here 
at  school  and  in  my  private  classes  that  it  produced  the  kind  of 
life  that  had  nothing  to  do  with  introverting  you.  Also  the  prob¬ 
lem  of  preparation;  I  took  great  exception  to  Strasberg  on  prepa¬ 
ration.”  • 


“You  developed  the  repetition  after  the  Group  Theatre,”  John 
says. 

“Yes,  but  it  wasn’t  until  the  late  1950s  or  early  1960s  that  it  took 
the  form  it  has  now.”  -  <•  T  r<„  > :  . 

“Was  there  anything  similar  that  you  used  to  do  in  the 
Group?”  ••  • 

“No.” 

“It  was  more  in  line  with  the  method  that  Strasberg  taught?” 
Rose  Marie  asks.  ’-v  v. 

“More  or  less,  yes.”  ! 

Ralph  holds  up  his  hand.  “Did  Harold  Clurman  have  any 
technique  or  theories  about  acting?” 

“He  had  a  general,  sensitive  knowledge  of  acting.” 

“Was  he  primarily  a  director?” 

“Yes,  but  a  historian,  too.  His  books  are  very  good.” 

“Yes,  they  are,”  Rose  Marie  says.  “Clurman  was  a  director,  but 
you  were  an  actor,  and  you  understood  what  it  meant  to  lead 
that  life.  And  from  what  I  hear,  you  were  a  very  good  actor. 
Apparently  Strasberg  wasn’t  very  successful  as  an  actor.  Is  that 
true?” 

“He  was  a  terrible  actor.”  ' 

“So  maybe  that  says  something.” 

“He  was  a  librarian;  that’s  what  he  was.  I  don’t  want  to  go 
into  it,  but  in  the  back  of  the  Neighborhood  Playhouse  bro¬ 
chure  which  we  send  to  prospective  students  there’s  a  list  of  the 
graduates.  If  you  want  to  amuse  yourself  in  a  sickening  kind  of 
way,  go  through  that  list  and  see  how  many  people  he  invited 
to  the  Studio  and  then  said,  ‘He  was  my  student.’  It’s  amazing.” 

“How  many  of  the  men  in  this  class  have  wanted  to  be  teach¬ 
ers?” 

Ray  holds  up  his  hand. 

“You  have?” 

“When  I  went  to  college  I  thought  I’d  be  a  teacher.” 

“An  acting  teacher?” 

“I’ve  thought  of  being  an  acting  teacher,  but — ” 


SOME  THOUGHTS  ON  ACTORS  AND  ON  ACTING  1  8  5 

“Just  before  you  all  came  in,  I  saw  a  Playhouse  class.*  It  really 
stayed  me  how  awful  it  was.  Terrible.” 

“The  students  themselves  were  bad,”  Joseph  asks,  “or  the  work 
was  bad?” 

“The  work  was  very  bad.” 

“So  how  many  new  teachers  are  you  looking  for?”  Bette 
asks. 

“Two  or  three,  but  where  are  they?” 

“And  you’re  only  hiring  men?”  Rose  Marie  says. 

“Not  necessarily.” 

“But  aren’t  all  the  Playhouse  teachers,  those  who  teach  the 
younger  students  under  your  direction,  former  students  of 
yours?”  Joseph  asks. 

“They  were  all  trained  by  me.” 

“I’m  not  so  sure  it’s  the  teachers’  fault  anymore,”  Rose  Marie 
says.  “I  think  it  has  to  do  with  the  students  today.  I  think  that 
when  a  lot  of  young  people  read  that  Robert  Duvall  and  Diane 
Keaton  studied  here  and  that  you  were  their  teacher,  they  decide 
they  want  to  be  like  them,  but  they  don’t  understand  the  work 
that  goes  into  it.” 

“They  worked  like  dogs,  those  people.” 

“I  believe  it.  I  don’t  believe  they  were  just  natural  talents.  I 
think  they  worked  very,  very  hard.” 

“With  natural  talent.” 

“With  natural  talent,”  Rose  Marie  agrees. 

“How  do  you  teach  somebody,”  John  asks,  “to  be  a  good  acting 
teacher?  It  seems  to  require — ” 

“You  don’t!” 

*The  Neighborhood  Playhouse  School  of  the  Theatre,  340  East  54th  Street, 
New  York,  offers  a  two-year  training  program  for  the  theater  to  a  maximum 
of  110  students,  most  of  them  in  their  early  twenties.  It  has  a  faculty  of 
fourteen,  of  whom  four  teach  acting  under  Sanford  Meisner’s  supervision. 
Other  courses  include  speech  and  vocal  production,  singing,  stage  move¬ 
ment,  dance,  fencing,  makeup  and  a  course  in  acting  period  plays.  In  addi¬ 
tion  to  his  work  with  these  students,  Sanford  Meisner  has  traditionally 
taught  a  class,  like  the  one  described  in  this  book,  for  older  professionals. 


“That’s  what  I  mean,”  John  says.  “I  agree,  because  it  seems  to 
be  the  most  sensitive  kind  of  teaching  there  could  ever  be.” 

I  think,”  Ray  says,  “that  half  the  people  teaching  don’t  know 
what  good  acting  is.  What  drives  me  forward  in  the  class  is  my 
belief  that  you  know  what  you’re  looking  at,  and  that  it  means 
a  great  deal  to  me  if  you  say  I’m  going  in  the  right  or  the  wrong 
direction.  That’s  where  the  drive  comes  from;  I  believe  you  know 
what  you’re  talking  about.  I  believe  it  because  of  two  things:  your 
reputation,  and  the  way  you  discuss  what  you  see  in  class.  You 
know  what  you’re  talking  about.” 

“I’ll  tell  you  something,”  says  Meisner,  “and  I’m  really  speak- 
mg  objectively-there  are  practically  no  acting  teachers  who  » 

1  here  are  many  supposed  techniques  around,  but  nobody 
with  a  really  clear  vision  of  what  to  do,”  Ralph  says.  “At  least 
that’s  my  experience.  I’m  a  person  who  needs  some  kind  of  clar¬ 
ity  in  being  taught— you  know,  step-by-step.  I’ve  worked  with  a 
lot  of  people  who  teach  scenes,  who  know  what  to  do  in  any 
number  of  given  scenes,  but  who  have  no  clarity,  no  technique 
no  way  to  help  the  student  go  step-by-step.  They’re  confusing!”’ 

1  here  are  no  teachers  of  acting  technique  around.  They’re 
lakers.  I  say  this  impersonally.  I’ve  seen  their  work.  I  don’t  know 
how  we  got  on  this  subject,  but  I  once  saw  a  picture  of  a  well- 
known  French  painter  who  was  painting  with  his  back  to  the 
photographer.  On  each  hand  he  had  tied  brushes  because  he  was 
so  old  and  paralyzed  with  God  knows  what.  But  he  couldn’t  stop 
painting.  I’m  the  same  way.  I  can’t  stop  teaching.  Good  or  bad 

[  CaJ. 1  St0P’  old  enouSh  ^  stop.  I  can’t  see,  I  can’t  talk,  I  can  ! 
hardly  walk. 

‘‘Why  did  you  begin  teaching?”  Anna  asks. 

Why  does  any  artist  begin  doing  what  he’s  made  for?  Even  he 
doesn  t  know.  He’s  just  following  a  need  within  himself” 

‘‘And  the  Playhouse?”  Ray  asks.  “What  should  happen  to  it>” 
After  I  leave?” 

“Yes.” 

“Objectively?  Impersonally?  I  hope  they  close  it  down.  It  will 
have  done  its  work.” 


I 


.  -a 

Y 

m 


SOME  THOUGHTS  ON  ACTORS  AND. ON  ACTING  1  8  7 

“Sandy,”  says  Scott  Roberts,  “I  should  change  your  battery.” 

“Well,  change  it.” 

Scott  sits  beside  the  gray  desk,  removes  a  new  nine-volt  battery 
from  its  package  and  opens  the  case  of  a  small  transmitter  resting 
on  the  desk  top,  which  sends  Meisner’s  voice  to  the  amplifier  and 
the  loudspeaker  across  the  room. 

“I  wish  I  could  kill  myself.” 

“Really?”  Anna  asks.  “Are  you  serious?” 

“I  don’t  have  the  nerve;  that's  why  I  can  say  it.” 

“Why  do  you  wish  you  had  the  nerve?” 

“When  he  fixes  this  so  I’m  sure  you  can  hear  my  answer,  I’ll 
tell  you.” 

Scott  snaps  the  new  battery  into  the  transmitter,  closes  it  and 
returns  to  his  seat  beneath  the  controls  of  the  amplifier  across  the 
room. 

“Because  life  stinks.” 

“You’re  right,”  Anna  says,  “it  does.” 

“I’ve  had  enough  of  it.” 

“That’s  a  given,  though,”  Ray  says.  “What  does  that  have  to  do 
with  anything?  You  can’t  help  that.” 

“It’s  a  full  moon,  Sandy,”  Beth  says.  “You’ll  feel  better  next 
Week.”  -  ' 

“A  full  moon  always  affects  you  emotionally,”  Bette  says. 

“Next  week  you’ll  want  to  live  and  dance,”  Beth  says. 

“In  a  play  that  I  did— Scott  saw  it,  a  Sam  Behrman  play — what 
was  the  name  of  it?” 

“ The  Cold  Wind  and  the  Warm,  ”  Scott  says. 

“ The  Cold  Wind  and  the  Warm.  I  played  the  part  of  a  fat,  rich, 
insensitive  businessman — a  horrible  character.  In  one  scene  I  say 
to  a  young  girl — Suzanne  Pleshette — ‘Will  you  marry  me?’  Well, 
she  almost  falls  off  her  chair  in  amusement.  To  a  sensitive  person 
her  amusement  would  mean,  ‘Are  you  kidding?  Me  marry  you?’ 
But  to  a  big  lump  like  the  character  I  was  playing  it  meant — ” 
He  smiles  in  delight  and  clasps  his  hands  before  him  as  if  sa¬ 
voring  a  victory.  The  class  laughs.  “I  took  the  meaning  of  her 
laugh  from  my  character,  which  means  that  I  know  something 


188 

about  the  nature  of  an  insensitive  lunkhead.  It’s  all  in  the  in¬ 
stinct.” 

“But  in  the  moment,  too,  right?”  Ray  asks. 

“It  comes  out  of  the  moment.  Character  reveals  itself  by  how 
you  do  what  you  do.  I  say,  ‘Will  you  marry  me?’  and  she  laughs 
derisively.  I’m  insensitive.  I  think  she’s  accepting  me.” 

“There  are  many  people  who  would  play  that  as  if  they  real¬ 
ized  what  she  meant,”  Rose  Marie  says,  “but  you  played  it  as  if 
you  didn’t  even  see  it.” 

“No,  l  saw  it,  but  I  misinterpreted  it  because  I  was  insensitive.” 

“It  was  a  character  choice,”  Rose  Marie  says. 

“But  you  made  that  choice  instinctively,  not  intellectually,” 
Ray  says. 

“When  I  was  working  on  the  part  I  could  decide  how  to  do  it.” 

“So,”  Ray  says,  “your  character’s  insensitive,  and  when  the  girl 
laughs,  you  decide  that  that  she’s  accepting  you,  because  you 
missed  her  meaning.  But  isn’t  there  a  danger  that  if  you  make  too  ; 
many  of  those  choices  by  going  through  the  script  and  picking 
them  out  of  here” — he  points  to  his  head — “the  performance  is 
bound  to  be  artificial?” 

“Yes.” 

“So  even  though  there’s  a  balance  between  making  those  kinds 
of  choices  emotionally  and  making  them  as  a  result  of  reading  the 
script  with  your  head,  even  the  ones  you  decide  on  intellectually  f 
are  not  something  that  you  said  to  yourself,  ‘Oh,  this  would  be 
interesting  to  do.’  If  so,  in  the  long  run  it  would  be  better  for  j 
some  other  actor  to  do  the  part.” 

“Say  that  again.” 

“You  didn’t  make  a  choice  based  on  ideas  that  would  have  % 
worked  better  if  somebody  else  had  the  part,”  Ray  says. 

“Right.” 

“That  is  what  I  want  to  learn,”  Bette  says.  “I  want  to  find  out  Jj 
where  my  limitations  are — which  parts  I  should  be  going  for  or 
avoiding.  I  have  a  feeling  for  all  of  it,  so  how  do  I  know  if  I  can’t  % 
do  it?”  -  '  ll 

“Do  you  have  a  feeling  for  Peter  Pan?”  ■  ■  ,;0 

“Yeah.”  ■••if 

.  :  li 


189 


IT 

.  SOME  THOUGHTS  ON  ACTORS  AND  ON  ACTING 

“Well,  you’re  not  right  for  it.” 

“Okay,”  Bette  says,  “that’s  one  down.  That’s  what  I  want  to 
know.” 

“Life,  life,  life,  life.”  -. 

“In'  time  I’ll  find  out?” 

“The  last  play  the  Group  Theatre  put  into  rehearsal  was  The 
Three  Sisters  by  Chekhov.  Luckily,  we  never  performed  it.  They 
gave  me  the  part  of  Baron  Toozenbach.  I  said,  ‘I  won’t  play  it. 
A  minor  German  nobleman  in  prerevolutionary  Russia?’  It 
didn’t  mean  a  thing  to  me — not  a  thing.  Do  you  understand?” 

“I  used  to  think,”  Rose  Marie  says,  “that  if  I  didn’t  like  a  part 
and  refused  to  do  it,  it  was  because  I  wasn’t  any  good  as  an 
actress.  If  I  were  really  good,  I’d  be  Meryl  Streep,  who  can  do 
anything.” 

“No,  she  can’t.” 

“You’re  right,”  Rose  Marie  says. 

“I  always  get  cast  as  the  bright,  happy-go-lucky  girl  next  door,” 
Bette  says.  “I  never  get  the  roles  I’d  really  love  to  do.” 

“Like  what?” 

“The  killer  parts.” 

“That’s  our  theater.” 

“Now,  that's  encouraging,”  Bette  says,  turning  to  the  class. 
“He  didn’t  say  I  couldn’t  do  those  parts,  but  that  they  didn’t  think 
I  could  do  them,  or  that  they  didn’t  want  to  see  me  do  them.  They 
don’t  want  people  to  act.  They  want  people  to  be  what  they 
appear  to  be.  If  you  look  a  certain  way,  that’s  what  they  want  or 
don’t  want.-  They  don’t  think  of  anything  else.” 

“All  casting  is  like  that.  We  had  a  student  here — a  black  boy, 

.  very  talented.  He  graduated,  read  for  a  part  and  got  it.  They  said, 
‘Come  back  tomorrow  to  sign  your  contract.’  He  went  back — this 
is  God’s  honest  truth — and  the  lady  who  was  producing  it  said, 

:  ‘Oh,  by  the  way,  how  old  are  you?’  He  said,  ‘Twenty-three.’  And 
she  said,  ‘The  character  is  twenty-one.’  ” 

“Ah!”  gasps  the  entire  class. 

“That’s  happened  to  me,”  Bette  says. 

“It’s  part  of  the  business.” 

|  “Hollywood  is  terrible,”  Anna  says. 


190 

“It’s  just  as  bad  here,”  Meisner  says. 

“There  they  want  sixteen-year-olds  for  everything.” 

“Or  seventy-five-year-olds.” 

“Yeah,  they’re  getting  into  that,”  Anna  says. 

“Have  you  noticed  that  on  television  all  the  heroines  are  blond 
and  all  the  heroes  have  curly  black  hair?” 

“A  blond  man  isn’t  taken  seriously,”  Rose  Marie  says. 

“Tell  that  to  Robert  Redford,”  Ray  says. 

“She’s  right,”  Meisner  says,  “not  for  another  three  years.” 

The  class  laughs. 

“Blond  women  do  okay,  though,”  Bette  says. 

“For  three  years;”  Meisner  says.  “Then  they’re  going  to 
switch.” 

“In  three  years,”  Bette  says,  stroking  her  braided  black  hair, 
“my  ship  will  come  in.” 

“Once  I  took  my  courage  in  both  hands  and  told  a  little  parable 
about  the  two  barrels  to  a  famous  psychoanalyst,  and  instead  of  ; 
dropping  on  the  floor  with  amusement,  he  said  he  saw  some  truth 
in  it.  The  story  goes  like  this: 

“All  of  us  have  two  barrels  inside  us.  The  first  barrel  is  the  one 
that  contains  all  of  the  juices  which  are  exuded  by  our  troubles. 
That’s  the  neurotic  barrel.  But  right  next  to  it  stands  the  second1  :.; 
barrel,  and  by  a  process  of  seepage  like  osmosis,  some  of  the 
troubles  in  the  first  barrel  get  into  the  second,  and  by  a  miracle 
that  nobody  fully  understands,  those  juices  have  been  trans¬ 
formed  into  the  ability  to  paint,  to  compose,  to  write,  to  play 
music  and  the  ability  to  act.  So  essentially  our  talent  is  made  up  j 
out  of  our  transformed  troubles.” 

Meisner  pauses  for  a  moment.  .  i 

“I’d  always  thought  that  two  of  the  luckiest,  happiest  people 
I  could  imagine  were  Shakespeare  and  Beethoven,  but  the  doctor 
to  whom  I  told  this  parable  said,  ‘No,  no.  Shakespeare  had  plenty 
of  trouble — that  is,  neurosis — and  so  did  Beethoven,’  and  he 
pointed  out  some  of  their  more  obvious  troubles.  This  proved  to  t 
me  that  the  osmosis  between  the  barrels  doesn’t  work  com-  v 


191 


SOME  THOUGHTS  ON  ACTORS  AND  ON  ACTING 

pletely.  There  is  always  some  juice  in  the  trouble  barrel,  no 
matter  how  full  the  talent  barrel  is.  The  trouble  cannot  transpose 
itself  into  talent  without  leaving  some  residue  behind,  even  in  the 
most  talented  of  human  beings.” 


“The  moment  in  the  play  in  which  Duse  performed  in  London 
in  1895,  when  she  sees  her  lover  of  thirty  years  ago,  the  man  who 
is  the  father  of  her  child,  and  tries  to  be  quite  pleasant,  but  then 
suddenly  finds  herself  blushing,  is  pure  genius.  You  can’t  fake  a 
blush;  you  can’t  run  into  the  dressing  room  for  a  pot  of  rouge. 
It  also  cannot  be  prepared  for.  It  cannot  be  premeditated.  George 
Bernard  Shaw,  in  the  famous  review  he  wrote  about  her  perfor¬ 
mance,  said  he  was  curious,  in  a  professional  way,  whether  it 
happened  all  the  time.  I  think  that  it  happened  when  it  happened. 
That’s  all.  That  blush  can’t  be  prepared  for,  that’s  my  point; 
what’s  more,  if  the  script  says,  in  so  many  words,  ‘She  begins  to 
blush,’  cross  it  out.  ” 

“Why?”  Ray  asks'. 

“You  cross  things  like  that  out  because  they  are  anti-intuitive. 
Those  little  words  in  parentheses  underneath  the  character’s 
name  in  the  script,  like  ‘softly,’  ‘angrily,’  ‘entreatingly,’  or  ‘with 
effort,’  are  aids  for  readers  of  plays,  not  for  actors  of  them.  Cross 
them  out  immediately.” 

“Tell  us  why  you  cross  them  out,”  Ray  says. 

“Because  they  dictate  a  kind  of  life  which  can  only  be  there 
spontaneously.” 

“That’s  good  to  remember,”  Bette  says. 

“Did  you  ever  read  any  of  the  late  plays  by  Eugene  O’Neill? 
They  have  so  many  stage  directions  that,  if  you’re  cast  in  one,  the 
first  thing  you  have  to  do  is  buy  a  pencil  and  cross  them  all  out, 
because  nobody,  not  even  the  playwright,  can  determine  how  a 
life  is  going  to  live  itself  out  sensitively,  instinctively,  on  the 
stage.  But  I  add  this  caveat:  the  life  of  the  actor  must  not  annihilate 
the  deeper  implications  of  the  play  which  the  playwright  has 
written.” 


192 

II 

Ray  Stanton  enters  Meisner’s  office  and  says,  “Scott  told  me  you 
wanted  to  see  me.” 

“Yes.  Come  in  and  sit  down.  Perhaps  you’ve  heard  that  Scott 
has  successfully  directed  a  play  downtown.” 

“Yes,”  Ray  says-,  “at  Circle  Rep.  It  got  great  reviews.” 

“So  great,”  Meisner  says,  “that  he  has  decided  not  to  assist  me 
for  much  longer.  He  thought  you  might  like  to  have  the  job. 
Yes?” 

“Good  God,”  Ray  says,  “I’m  stunned,  but  I  would.  Thank 
you.” , 

“Scott  reminded  me  that  you  once  said  in  class  that  you  aspired 
to  become  a  teacher.  Is  that  true?” 

“Yes.” 

“Good.  We’ll  see.  Give  Scott  a  call.  He’ll  tell  you  when  he’s 
leaving  and  what  the  job  is  all  about.” 


Final  Scenes:  “Instead 


of  Merely  the  Truth” 


September  27 


Spring  Awakening  by 
Frank  Wedekind* 
act  3,  scene  5 

A  bedroom.  Doctor,  Wendla  and  Mrs.  Bergmann. 

•Torn  Osborn,  trans.  (London:  Calder  and  Boyars,  1969).  First  published 
Zurich  in  1891. 


Exeunt  Doctor  with  Mrs.  Bergmann 


wendla:  The  leaves  are  turning  yellow  on  the  plane  trees. 

Sometimes  I  feel  so  happy — full  of  joy  and  sunlight. 
There’s  a  warm  glow  round  my  heart.  I  want  to 
walk  in  the  sun  in  the  evening,  through  the  fields 
and  under  the  trees,  and  sit  on  the  river  bank  and 
dream  .  .  .  And  then  my  pain  comes  back  and  I  think 
I’m  going  to  die  tomorrow.  I  go  hot  and  cold  and  it’s 
all  dark  in  front  of  my  eyes,  and  a  monster  comes 
floating  into  the  room  .  .  .  Whenever  I  wake  I  see 
mother  crying.  That  hurts,  Mother,  why  do  you  cry? 
mrs.  b:  (Returning)  He  thinks  the  sickness  will  soon  pass  and 

then  it’s  perfectly  all  right  for  you  to  get  up.'  I  think 
it  would  be  better  for  you  to  get  up  soon  too. 
wendla:  What  else  did  he  say  out  there,  Mamma? 
mrs.  B:  He  said  nothing — he  told  me  about  the  young  Bar¬ 
oness  who  also  used  to  faint.  That  is  a  common 
symptom  of  anaemia. 
wendla:  Did  he  say  I  had.  anaemia? 

mrs.  b:  He  wants  you  to  drink  milk  and  eat  plenty  of  meat 
and  green  vegetables  as  soon  as  your  appetite  re¬ 
turns. 

wendla:  Oh  Mamma,  I  don’t  believe  I’ve  got  anaemia. 
mrs.  b:  You  have  got  anaemia,  Wendla.  You  must  rest  now. 
You  have  got  anaemia. 

wendla:  No  Mamma — I  know  that’s  not  true.  I  can  feel  it’s 
not  true.  I  haven’t  got  anaemia.  1  think  I’ve  got 
dropsy. 

mrs.  b:  You’ve  got  anaemia — that’s  what  he  told  me,  that 
you’ve  got  anaemia.  Try  to  rest  now,  Wendla,  it’ll 
get  better. 

wendla:  It  won’t  get  better.  I’ve  got  dropsy.  I  think  I’m  going 
to  die,  Mamma.  I’m  going  to  die. 
mrs  b:  You  won’t  die,  my  daughter — you  won’t  die  .  .  .  Oh 

merciful  God  .  .  .  You  won’t  die. 
wendla:  But  you’re  crying,  Mamma,  then  why  are  you  cry¬ 
ing? 


m 

i 


195 


ffpINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH” 

mrs  b:  You  won’t  die — Oh  Wendla.  It’s  not  dropsy.  You’ve 

got  a  baby ...  You’ve  got  a  baby ...  How  could  you  .. . 
’  wendla:  How  could  I  what? 
mrs  b:  Don’t  go  on  denying  it — I  know.  I  just  couldn’t  say 

it  before.  Wendla,  my  Wendla  ... 
wendla:  But  it’s  not  possible,  Mamma.  I’m  not  married  .  .  . 
mrs  b:  Oh  God,  give  me  strength.  That’s  just  it,  you’re  not 

married.  That’s  the  terrible  thing.  Oh  Wendla,  how 
could  you  do  it? 

wendla:  But  what  did  I  do?  We  lay  together  in  the  hay  .  .  . 

I’ve  never  loved  anyone  but  you,  Mamma,  only 
you  ... 

mrs  b:  My  dearest  girl  ... 

wendla:  Oh  Mamma,  why  didn’t  you  tell  me  it  all  .  .  . 
mrs  b:  It  won’t  help  now,  it  won’t  help  now,  weeping  and 

reproaches.  How  could  I  tell  you — a  fourteen-year- 
old  girl  .  .  .  My  mother  told  me  no  more  than  I  did 
you — it  would  be  like  the  sun  not  rising  one  day 
.  .  .  We  must  put  our  trust  in  God  now,  Wendla,  in 
His  mercy.  Nothing  has  happened  yet.  If  we  can  be 
courageous  now,  God  will  stay  with  us.  Be  brave, 
Wendla,  be  brave  .  .  .  What’s  the  matter? 
wendla:  Someone  knocked  at  the  door. 
mrs  b:  I  didn’t  hear  anything. 

wendla:  Oh  yes,  I  heard  it  very  clearly.  Who’s  there? 
mrs  b;  No  one.  Mrs.  Schmidt  from  Garden  Street.  Come 
up,  Mrs.  Schmidt.  I  was  expecting  you. 


“If  one  is  foolhardy  enough  to  put  a  fragile  canoe  into  a  tempestu¬ 
ous  river,  what  dictates  the  movement  of  the  canoe?” 

“The  current  of  the  river,”  Sarah  says. 

“The  river.  You  know  all  this.  The  river  is  equivalent  to  the 
emotions,  right?  Now,  you  have  to  know  something  about  this 
play.  It  was  written  as  a  passionate  rebellion  against  the  igno¬ 
rance  of  children.  Fourteen — she’s  a  child,  Sarah,  you  follow?  To 
be  pregnant  at  fourteen  is  the  equivalent  of  your  mother  finding 
out  that  you’re  going  to  jail  for  life  for  heroin  or  murder.  It’s  a 
scene  about  fatality.  Do  you  understand?” 


196 

“Yes,”  Sarah  says. 

“Now,  the  problem  of  the  scene  is  in  the  preparation,  the 
tempestuousness  of  the  river,  and  in  your  understanding  of  the 
fact  that  this  is  a  play  which  is  a  violent  protest  against  keeping 
young  people  ignorant.  It’s  as  if  you  and  your  mother  have  just 
found  out  that  your  young  husband  of  two  days  was  killed  in  an 
accident.  It’s  a  scene  of  bereavement  against  the  misfortune  of 
life.” 

“You  mean  this  terrible  thing  has  happened  to  me  and  there’s 
nothing  I  can  do  about  it?” 

“There’s  nothing  you  can  do  if  the  judge  says,  ‘You’re  in  for 
life!’  Nothing  you  can  do.  The  play  takes  place  as  if  this  room 
were  your  prison  cell!  Do  I  make  myself  clear?” 

“Yes,”  Sarah  says,  “very  clear.” 

“If  I  were  you,  I’d  do  an  exercise  which  will  release  for  you  the 
emotional  content  of  the  scene.  What  I  said  before  about  a  canoe 
in  a  typhoon  is  an  example  which  explains  the  rhythm  and  the 
content  of  this  scene.  Any  questions?” 

“Are  you  talking  about  the  emotional  life  of  both  these  peo¬ 
ple?”  Lila  asks.  ,■  ' 

“You’re  both  in  the  same  canoe.” 

“Okay,  they’re  both  in  this  typhoon  together.  But  is  it  impor¬ 
tant  that  the  mother  feels  more  responsibility  and  guilt  for  the 
daughter’s  ignorance?” 

“You  don’t  have  to  worry  about  that  because  it  is  revealed 
during  the  course  of  the  play.  You  just  have  to  get  the  canoe  into 
that  river.” 

“Get  the  canoe  into  the  water?”  Sarah  asks. 

“That’s  the  preparation.  You  know,  it’s  such  a  short  scene  that 
you  might — 

“We’ll  do  it  on  Monday,”  Lila  says. 

“Learn  the  lines.  You’ll  start  it  on  Monday,  right?” 

“Right,”  Lila  says.  “I  mean,  we  can  do  it  without  the  book  on 
Monday.” 

“If  you’re  in  the  canoe!” 


197 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 

October  4 

“Stay  where  you  are.  Put  your  book  away.  Lila,  sit  down.  Sarah, 
take  that  bedcover  off  you.  Lila,  you’ve  just  found  out — I’m  talk¬ 
ing  about  imagination — that  your  daughter  is  going  to  prison. 
Anything!  I  don’t  care!  See?  I  don’t  care  what  you  think  of.  Cry! 
And  don’t  stop  crying  until  I  tell  you  to.  That’s  right.  Begin  to 
cry!  Now,  Sarah,  you’re  an  actress.  If  a  doctor  told  you  that  you 
had  lung  cancer,  would  it  upset  you?”  Sarah  nods  and  Lila  begins 
to  cry.  “That’s  right.  Sarah,  if  somebody  told  you  that  your 
mother  was  about  to  die,  would  it  upset  you?” 

-  “Yes.”  •  '■ 

“Okay,  so  start  to  cry.” 

After  a  pause  Lila  says,  “The  doctor  said  that  you’re — ” 

“No  text!  No  text!  Only  emotion!  If  you  want  to  use  words, 
you  can  use  them  based  on  what  I  said  about  cancer  or  prison.” 
They  both  are  crying  quietly.  There  is  a  pause.  “If  you  remember 
any  of  the  lines — if  you  can  say  them  to  each  other — you  can  have 
a  conversation.  If  you  remember.  If  you  don’t,  that’s  okay  too.” 

The  crying  increases.  Lila  is  weeping  openly;  the  tears  stream 
from  her  large  blue  eyes,  and  the  mascara  on  her  lashes  begins 
to  run.  The  women  begin  the  scene  and  the  text  floats  on  the 
surface  of  Lila’s  deeply  felt  emotion.  Sarah,  however,  seems  quiet 
but  unmoved. 

“Cry,  Sarah!” 

“Ah!”  she  shouts  and  hits  the  bed  with  her  fists  in  frustration. 
In  a  moment  she  begins  to  sob.  It  is  heartbreaking.  “I  don’t  have 
anaemia!  I  know  it!”  she  cries. 

After  a  moment,  when  her  grief  permits,  Lila  says  in  little 
panting  breaths,  “You  have  .  .  .  anaemia  .  .  .  and  it  .  .  .  will  get 
better.  ...” 

Sarah  shouts,  as  if  in  great  pain,  “It  won’t  get  better!  It  won’t 
get  better!”  Then,  calming  herself,  she  says,  “Oh,  Mother,  I’ve 
got  to  die.” 

“You  don’t  have  to  die,”  Lila  sobs.  “You  don’t  have  to  die. 
Merciful  heavens!  You  don’t  have  to  die!” 

“Then,”  Sarah  says  accusingly,  “why  do  you  cry  so  much?” 
In  a  tiny  voice  strangled  with  tears,  Lila  says,  “You  don’t  have 


t  yo 


to  die.  .  .  .  You  only  have  dropsy.  You  have  .  .  .  you  have  a  baby! 
What  have  you  done  to  me?” 

“I  haven’t  done  anything  to  you!” 

“Oh,  you  lied  to  me.  I  know  everything.  I  just  couldn’t  say 
anything  before  now.  Oh,  Wendla!”  She  is  overcome  by  more 
tears. 

Sarah  is  stunned  and  says  in  a  whisper,  “It’s  not  possible.  I’m 
not  married.” 

“God,  that’s  just  it.  You’re  not  married.  Oh,  what  have  you 
done?” 

“Mother,  I’ve  never  loved  anyone  except  you.  You,  Mother!” 

The  reading  sounds  forced  and  Meisner  interrupts  her. 
“That’s  out  of  the  book!”  Lila  continues  to  sob.  “I  feel  good  about 
this  because  that's  the  scene — the  scene  without  those  screwy 
words.  The  scene  is  about  two  people  going  through  a  terrible 
experience,  and  I  don’t  know  any  floozy — I’m  not  talking  about 
either  of  you — who  can’t  learn  those  lines  if  she’s  asked  to.  But 
I  told  you  last  time — this  isn’t  criticism — about  the  canoe!  That's 
the  canoe.  It  comes  first,  and  when  you  are  full  and  you  can 
remember  an  occasional  line,  throw  it  out!  It  can’t  hurt!”  The 
class  laughs.  “This  is  the  scene.  No  book.  No  text.  I  don’t  have  to 
say  any  more.  Can  you  grasp  that?” 

“I  think  so,”  Lila  says  wiping  her  eyes  on  a  silk  handkerchief. 
“I  thought  of  a  very  strong  preparation  for — ” 

“Where  was  it?” 

“Well,  I  didn’t  feel  that  she  had  reached  the  point — ” 

“It  says  so  in  the  book.” 

“I  mean  at  the  beginning.  I  was  working  my  way  into  it.” 

“There  are  too  many  line  actors  in  this  world!  That’s  for  stock! 
In  New  Hampshire!  In  the  summer!  We’re  talking  about  acting! 
What’s  the  character?  A  woman  terrified  of  scandal  because  of 
what  her  daughter  has  done  to  herself.  A  daughter  who  will  be 
broken  by  the  scandal  of  what  she’s  done!  Do  you  follow?” 

“Yes.” 

“Did  you  understand  what  I  meant  when  I  said,  ‘ This  is  the 
scene’?” 

“The  preparation  has  to  be  that  full?”  Sarah  asks. 

“Yes!  When  you  rehearse,  you  should  prepare,  play  it  freely 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 


199 


with  no  book,  then  quit.  Talk  about  the  President,  have  a  cup  of 
tea,  then  rehearse  again.” 

“I’m  still  confused,”  Lila  says.  “I  mean,  I  understand  what 
you’re  talking  about,  and  you  obviously  want  it  from  the  very 
beginning.  I  was  prepared  to  move  emotionally.  I  was  trying  to 
hide  from  her  at  the  onset  of  the  scene — ” 

“You  weren’t  hiding.  You  can’t  kid  me  when  it  comes  to  emo¬ 
tion.” 

“Well,  that’s  what  I  was  attempting  to  do.” 

“Don’t  talk  about  it.  I  told  you  that  this  is  the  scene.  In  time, 
tack  on  the  text.  Talk  to  each  other.  What’s  so  mysterious  about 
that?  You  don’t  understand?” 

“Do  you  want  us  to  continue  with  it?”  asks  Lila. 

“Damn  right.  That’s  what  it’s  all  about.” 

“I  thought  I  was  moving  in  that  direction—” 

“You  don’t  move  in  that  direction.  You’re  right  there." 

“But  what  do  you  do,”  Lila  asks,  “when  that  emotional  prepa¬ 
ration  is  for  something  that  is  not  at  the  very  beginning  of  the 

scene?”  .  . 

“There’s  no  such  thing.  A  preparation  is  only  for  the  beginning 

of  the  scene,  and  each  moment  feeds  it  and  changes  it.  You  re  not 
going  to  get  it  from  the  text!” 

“Then  I  misunderstood,”  Lila  says.  This  has  been  a  very 
painful  rehearsal  time  for  us.” 

“I  say  it  should  be  very  simple.  Prepare  for  the  hysteria,  gradu¬ 
ally  learn  the  lines,  then  put  the  two  together.  If  you  prepare  and 
then  work  moment  by  moment  off  her  and  with  her,  you  11  al¬ 
ways  be  riding  on  a  very  stormy  river.  Do  you  understand  what 
I’m  talking  about?  What  do  you  know  before  you  begin?” 

“I  know  that  my  daughter  is  pregnant.” 

“That’s  all  you  need.  That  means  your  daughter’s  dead!  Cry! 
What  could  be  simpler?  Who  is  Mrs.  Schmidt,  the  lady  from 
Garden  Street?” 

“I  assumed,  for  the  sake  of  the  scene,”  Lila  says,  “that  she’s  an 
old  friend — ” 

“No!  She’s  the  abortionist!” 

“Oh,  my  God,”  Lila  says. 

“Cry,  both  of  you,  then  talk.  That’s  my  method  of  acting:  cry, 


200 

then  talk.  Don’t  talk  and  then  expect  to  cry,  because  you  won’t! 
When  you  began  you  didn’t  have  anything.  This  time  you  had  it! 
Next  time  I  bet  you  will  too!” 

October  11 

Lila  and  Sarah  repeat,  for  the  last  time,  their  scene  from  We¬ 
dekind’s  Spring  Awakening.  It  is  full  of  tears  and  emotionally 
moving,  but  the  amount  of  their  emotion  and  inexperience  in 
handling  it  makes  it  difficult  for  the  audience  to  understand  every 
word. 

“Okay,  blow  your  noses.  Emotionally — ”  The  two  women  are 
still  crying,  so  Meisner  stops.  “Lila,  laugh!  Sing  ‘The  Star-Span¬ 
gled  Banner’!” 

“  ‘Oh,  say  can  you  see?’  ”  Lila  sings  in  a  blowzy,  teary  voice  and 
then  begins  to  giggle. 

“That’s  right!  Sarah,  tickle  yourself!” 

Sarah  begins  to  laugh  and  the  class  joins  in. 

“Emotionally,  that  is  the  scene.  Do  you  see  the  difference  be- 
tween  last  time  and  this  time?”  y 

“Yes,”  Lila  says. 

“You  do?  My  chief  concern  is  for  you — for  anybody — to  act  out 
the  life  of  the  scene  as  intended  by  the  playwright.  Technically 
it  was  faulty  in  its  lack  of  clarity,  but  I  don’t  care  about  that.  The 
problem  is  to  be  understandable  without  losing  the  emotional  life 
of  the  scene,  which  you  now  have.  Getting  used  to  having  the 
emotion  will  help  greatly;  the  clarity  will  come  by  itself.  The 
canoe  won’t  capsize.  You  follow?” 

“I  think  so,”  Sarah  says.  “What  you’re  saying  is  that  the  more 
we  rehearse  it — ” 

“The  clearer  you  will  be  without  losing  the  life  of  the  scene.' 
If  you  do  it  like  this.” 

“Are  you  saying  that  the  emotion  shouldn’t  be  at  this  peak  for 
the  whole  scene?”  Lila  asks. 

“Right,  not  all  the  time.” 

“But  you  wanted  for  us  to  go  for  it — ” 

“You  start  from  there.” 


FINAL  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 


201 


“Right.” 

,  “This  is  the  scene  as  written  by  the  playwright.  I’m  pointing 
out  that  emotionally  it  was  where  it  should  be,  but  that  techni¬ 
cally  it  was  weak.  But  this  happens  all  the  time.” 

“Do  you  mean  in  plays  or  in  life?”  Lila  asks. 

“In  plays,  not  in  life.  You’re  not  forced  to  live  life,  you  know.” 


October  18 


A  Palm  Tree  in  a  Rose  Garden*  by 
Meade  Roberts 
from  act  3,  scene  1 


.  .  .  Charlie  and  Barbara  enter  L.  B&th-are-tighi,  Barbara  the  mere-fOy 
and  she  immediately  heads  for  me  of  the  beach  ehairs  and  flops  into-ifr 


BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 


CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 


{Sighing-with  relief.)  Oh.  {She  kicks  another  chair  lightly 
with  her- feat.  )  Sit  down. 

I  can’t  stay  long.  I’ve  an  early  appointment  with 
Victor. 

Victor,  Victor,  Victor!  Where  were  we  tonight? 
{Sttsv)  At  Victor’s. 

I  know  we  were  at  Victor’s.  Where’s  Victor’s? 

On  North  Rodeo  Drive. 

,  Silly  name,  North  Rodeo.  And  La  Cienega’s  a  silly 
name,  too.  And  Las  Palmas! 

All  right,  Barbara! 

How  could  anybody  in  his  right  mind  name  a  street 
Las  Palmas?  I’ll  never  live  on  Las  Palmas.  Never, 
never! 

So  don’t  live  on  Las  Palmas! 

You  don’t  much  care  where  I  live,  do  you? 

No,  I  don’t! 


"Meade  Roberts,  A  Palm  Tree  in  a  Rose  Garden  (New  York:  Dramatists  Play 
Service,  1958),  51-56. 


BARBARA: 


CHARLIE: 


BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 


CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 


CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 


You’d  much  rather  forget  where  I  live.  Like 
you  almost  forgot  this  afternoon!  If  I  had  any 
pride,  I  wouldn’t  have  gone  with  you  tonight! 
I  shouldn’t  have  anyway.  It  wasn’t  much  fun! 
Well,  you  were  the  one  who  wanted  to  sulk!  Nobody 
else  was  sulking.  Everybody  was  having  a  fine  time! 
Everybody  was  joking  and  singing  songs!  Every¬ 
body  was  having  a  fine  time! 

Were  you? 

Sure  I  was. 

You  weren’t  joking  and  singing  songs.  You  were 
with  Victor  in  a  corner — talking!  Gab,  gab,  gab,  all 
night  long.  Everybody  felt  sorry  for  me! 

Nobody  felt  sorry  for  you!  (. Half-rising: )  I  got  to  go 
home. 

Sit  down! — There’s  something  I  have  to  ask  you! 
Did  you  talk  to  Victor  tonight? 

{Mis- voice  rising.)  You  know  I  talked  to  Victor  to¬ 
night!  What’s  the  matter  with  you?  You  crazy? 

— I  mean,  did  you  talk  to  Victor  about  me? 
{Hedging. )  Sure,  sure,  I  talked  to  him  about  you. 
{Rises  and  crosses  away  a  htt.) 

And? 

{After  a  pause. )  He’s  not  making  the  picture. 

Not  making — !  What  in  hell  do  you  mean? 

What  in  hell  do  you  think  I  mean?  He’s  not  making 
the  picture. 

{Building.- )  So  I  don’t  have  a  part  in  the  picture!  I’m 
out?  So  I’m  in  the  doghouse  again! 

Listen,  will  you — 

{Near  sbouAng-mow-. )  I’m  in  the  doghouse  again! 
Shut  up! 

You’re  a  liar!  A  goddamned  liar!  He  is  mak¬ 
ing  the  picture!  You  never  mentioned  me  to 
him! 

{Angrily:)  Call  him,  if  you  don’t  believe  me! 

{Rises. )  I  don’t  have  to  call  him!  I’ll  go  see  him!  Right 
now !  Who  is  he  anyway? 


203 


FINAL  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 


Charlie:  Listen!  {But  Barbara  is  sobbing  now,  and  Charlie  loses  his 
anger  and -takes-  her  ■  in - his ■  arms. )  1 

Barbara:  (CrumpAngr)  Charlie — Charlie — Charlie — 
charlie:  Now,  it’s  not  that  important — 

Barbara:  {Sobbing.  )  But  it  is,  it  is — 

charlie:  {Quietly. )  Why  don’t  you  just  go  inside  and  lie  down? 
Barbara:  {A  little-girl  again. )  Will  you  go  inside  with  me? 
charlie:  It’s  late — 

Barbara:  {Shou ting-agaiiu )  All  right,  don’t  go  inside  with  me! 

I  don’t  want  you  to  anyway!  You’re  not  that  good. 
I  just  thought  you  wanted  to!  (  .  .  .  Barbara  starts 
toward  the  house,  then- stops  ■and  faces  him,-a  queer "expres¬ 
sion  on  her- face:)  Charlie? 
charlie:  What? 

BARBARA:  {Slowly — quietly.  )  Charlie — if  the  deal  is  dead — why 
are  you  seeing  Victor  in  the  morning? — You’re  hid¬ 
ing  something.  What  is  it? 
charlie:  I’m  not  hiding  anything. 

Barbara:  {As  matter  of faetly  as  possible. )  Yes,  you  are.  I  can  tell. 

What  are  you  hiding? 
charlie:  I — 

Barbara:  Come  on.  {Laughing  in  spite-of  herself .-)  Mama  wants  to 
know!  {There  is  a  long,  long  moment  during  which  Charlie 
averts  her  glance.-)  Come  on. 
charlie:  I’m — leaving,  Barbara. 

Barbara:  Leaving?  What  do  you  mean,  leaving? 
charlie:  I’m  going  to  Rome  with  Victor. 

Barbara:  Rome? 

charlie:  Victor’s  doing  a  picture  there. 

Barbara:  When  did  all  this  come  about? 
charlie:  Tonight. 

Barbara:  You  mean  it  was  all  thought  up  and  decided  tonight? 
charlie:  More  or  less. 

Barbara:  I  see.  {Exploding  suddenly )  Hdw  can  you  lie  in  my 
face  like  that?  How  can  you  stand  there  expecting 
me  to  believe  you? 
charlie:  Barbara! 

BARBARA:  And  don’t  tell  me  to  quiet  down!  ’Cause  I  won’t!  Let 


everybody  hear!  I  want  them  to  hear!  — How  stupid 
do  you  think  I  am? 

Charlie:  I  refuse  to  discuss  this  with  you  if  you’re  going  to 
be  hysterical! 


BARBARA: 


CHARLIE: 


BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 

CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 


CHARLIE: 

BARBARA: 


I’ll  be  as  hysterical  as  I  want!  I  don’t  get  ditched  that 
easy,  my  friend. 

{Flaring  up-.)  What  do  you  expect  me  to  do?  Turn 
down  the  job?  — Are  things  so  hot  for  me  now  that 
I  can  turn  it  down?  What  do  you  expect  me  to  do? 
{Petulantly. )  Take  me  to  Rome,  that’s  what  I  expect 
you  to  do!  Take  me  to  Rome  with  you! 

I  can’t  do  that. 

— Yes,  you  can — 

— I  can’t — 

You  have  to!  You  brought  me  back! — 

— I  can’t  discuss  this  until  you’re  calm! — 

I’m  not  going  to  be  calm.  What’s  going  to  happen  to 
me?  Where’ll  I  go?  You  expect  me  to  go  back  to 
Cleveland? — 

{A  way  out. )  You  have  your  family — 

The  hell,  with  my  family!  They  don’t  care  wheth¬ 
er  I’m  alive  or  dead!  —Why  should  I  go  back  to 
them? — 


Charlie:  — 1  hen  don’t  go  back! 

Barbara:  What  am  I  going  to  do? 

Charlie:  {After  a  pause — quietly. )  It’s  time  you  figured  that  out 
for  yourself.  — Good  night.  {He  exits  to  the  street. ) 

Barbara:  {With  terrifying  frenzy, ■■)  It’s  not  going  to  be  that  easy, 
you  hear!  (-■■.  -  Shouting  after  Charlie.) — It’s  not  going 
to  be  that  easy!  You’ll  be  sorry,  Charlie!  I’ll  make 
you  sorry!  You’ll  see  I’ll  make  you  sorry!  {Sobbing 
convulsively,  Barbara-rushes  about  wildly  and  violently 
needing  something  to  destroy  picks  up  a  small  stone  and 
flings  it.  .  .  .) 


Emotionally,  this  scene  is  a  Hollywood  scene.  That  means  that 
everybody  in  it  is  a  liar.  Wendy,  why  did  you  go  to  the  party?” 


205 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 

“I  think  that  I  went  there  to  get  a  job,  an  acting  job,”  Wendy 
says. 

“Ralph  took  you  there  to  introduce  you  to  a  director  who  was 
going  to  give  you  a  part.  Did  he  talk  to  the  director?” 

“Yes.  He  talked  to  Victor.” 

“Did  you  get  the  part?” 

“No.” 

“Why  aren’t  you  getting  it?” 

“He  talked  to  the  director  only  about  himself.” 

“Of  course.  That’s  Hollywood.  First  he  tells  you  that  they’re 
not  going  to  make  the  picture;  then  he  admits  that  they  are,  and 
that  he’s  going  to  Rome  and  act  in  it,  right?” 

“Yes.” 

“What  does  that  make  him?” 

“A  liar.” 

“What  does  that  make  you?” 

“A  nothing,”  Wendy  says. 

“So  you’re  a  nothing?  How  did  you  do  at  the  party?” 

“Not  very  well.” 

“Why  not?” 

“Because  he  was  talking  to  the  director  all  the  time  and  wasn’t 
talking  to  me,  and  I  was  sulking  and  everybody  was  feeling  sorry 
for  me.” 

'Who  was  feeling  sorry  for  you?” 

“/  was.  I  was  feeling  sorry  for  me.” 

“What  were  the  other  people  doing?” 

“They  were  laughing.” 

“Having  a  good  time?” 

“Yes,”  Wendy  says. 

“One  of  the  big  stars  said,  'Here,  girlie,  get  me  a  drink.’  How 
did  you  feel  about  that?” 

“I  wanted  to  die.” 

“  ‘I  want  to  die  because  of  what  happened’  is  the  preparation 
for  this  scene.  You  follow?” 

“Yes.” 

“But  if  you’re  in  a  condition  where  you  honestly  want  to  die,  it 
doesn’t  last  for  only  a  minute,  it  goes  on  and  on.  Do  you  under¬ 
stand?” 


206 

“Yes.” 

Charlie  never  introduced  you;  he  never  even  mentioned  you 
want  to  die’  is  a  good  emotional  springboard  for  this  exercise  ’ 
Meisner  turns  to  Ralph.  “Did  you  get  work?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Did  she  get  work?” 

“No.” 

“How  do  you  feel  about  that?” 

“I  don’t  want  to  hear  it.” 

“Why  not?” 

“Because  it’s  a  downer.  It’s  just  negative.  I’ve  got  better  things 


“To  hell  with  her!  Let  her  go  back  to  Topeka,  right?” 

ieah,  it’s  not  my  responsibility.” 

“Sure!  So  it’s  a  scene  about  a  girl  who,  rightly  or  wrongly,  , 
desolate  about  the  death  of  someone  or  the  loss  of  somethin 
at  s  precious  to  you,  Wendy,  and  that  you,  Ralph,  don’t  give  ' 

down?’’b°Ut‘  D‘d  y°U  Underst^nd  that?  What  did  you  writ 

“I  wrote  down,”  says  Ralph,  who  has  been  making  notes  on  th< 
pages  of  a  small  notebook,  “  ‘She  is  desolate  and  I  don’t  care.’  ’ 
Instead  of  ‘I  don’t  care,’  write  down,  ‘indifferent— i-n-d-i-f-e- 

double-r-e-n-t.  Then  prepare  and  work  with  the  script.  We’ll  see 
what  you  do.”  r 


October  25 


jnvait  a  minute.  Wait  a  minute.  Do  you  know  the  lines  more  o: 

Some  I  do,  some  I  don’t,”  Wendy  says. 

“AU  right.  Throw  yourself  on  that  bed.  Throw  yourself!” 
Wendy  walks  to  the  foot  of  the  bed  and  sits. 

That’s  throwing?”  Meisner  asks  and  the  class  laughs  “Now 
and  this  is  the  worst  direction  of  all  time-get  hysterical'  1 
don  t  hear  anything.  More!”  Wendy  begins  to  sob  out  loud. 

■'ThT  Je^ed!  Kiil  the  bed!"  She  »ut  »  loud  cry  of  pain. 
1  hat  s  good!  Now  say  your  lines!”  r 


207 


FINAL  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 


“Sit  down,”  Wendy  says  to  Ralph. 

“Never  mind  him.  Just  stay  hysterical.” 

“I  can’t  stay  long,”  Ralph  says.  “I  have  an  appointment  with 
Victor  in  the  morning.” 

“Victor!  Victor!  Victor!  Where  were  we  tonight?” 

“At  Victor’s.” 

“I  know  we  were  at  Victor’s.  Where’s  Victor’s?” 

“On  North  Rodeo  Drive.” 

“I  know  North  Rodeo — that’s  a  silly  name!  And  La  Cienega’s 
a  silly  name  and  so  is  Las  Palmas!  I’ll  never,”  Wendy  says  with 
manic  intensity,  “live  on  Las  Palmas!  Never!  Never!” 

“So  don’t  live  on  Las  Palmas,”  Ralph  says  with  such  blatant 
indifference  to  her  suffering  that  the  class  laughs  in  surprise. 

“You  don’t  much  care  where  I  live,  do  you?”  Wendy  says 
coldly. 

“No,  I  don’t  care  where  you  live.” 

“Don’t  look  at  him,”  Meisner  says,  “just  stay  hysterical!” 

“You  don’t  care  where  I  live,  do  you?”  Wendy  says  in  a  louder 
voice. 

“Wendy,  lie  down!”  Meisner  says. 

She  lies  back  on  the  bed  and  begins  to  sob.  “You  don’t .  .  .  care 
.  .  .  where  I  live  ...  do  you?” 

“No,  I  don’t  care  where  you  live,”  Ralph  repeats  calmly. 

“Hit  the  bed!”  Meisner  says. 

“This  evening!  It  wasn’t  much  fun!” 

“You’re  the  one  who  wanted  to  sulk.  Everyone  else  was  having 
a  fine  time.  Everyone  was  joking  and  singing.” 

“Were  you?” 

“Sure  I  was.” 

“Yeah,  you  were  having  a  fine  time!  You  were  over  in  the 
corner  talking  with  Victor  all  night  long!  Gab,  gab,  gab!  Every¬ 
body  felt  sorry  for  me,”  Wendy  wails. 

“Nobody  felt  sorry  for  you,  Barbara.  I’m  leaving!”  Ralph  says. 
His  turn  toward  the  door  prompts  an  unclear  emotional  outburst 
from  Wendy.  “Did  you  talk  to  Victor  tonight?”  she  finally  asks. 

“Of  course  I  talked  with  Victor  tonight.” 

“I  didn’t  see  you  talk  to  Victor  about  me!” 

Meisner  interrupts.  “Don’t  look  at  him  once!” 


208 


“Didn’t  you  talk  to  Victor  about  me?” 

“Sure.  Sure.”  ./  ■- v ■  ■  - 

“And?”  a.' a  ■■'■■'■•n.-r-i  ■  *  ,*  *  , 

“He’s  not  making  the  picture!” 

“Ah!  Why  in  hell  isn’t  he  making  that  picture?” 

“What  in  hell  do  you  think  I  mean?”  Ralph  says.  “He’s  not 
making  the  picture.” 

“Ah!  Ah!  Ah!”  Wendy  exclaims,  and  with  each  cry  she  bangs 
her  head  against  the  wall.  She  is  hysterical  with  frustration  and 
anger,  and  her  emotion  is  at  once  real  and  funny.  “And  I’m  in 
the  doghouse  again!”  she  says,  and  the  class  laughs.  “You’re  a  liar. 
He  ir  making  the  picture!” 

“If  you  don’t  believe  me,  why  don’t  you  just  call  him  up?” 

“I’ll  call  him!  Who  the  hell  is  he,  anyway?”  She  is  sobbing 
loudly.  “Oh,  Charlie,  Charlie,  Charlie!” 

“It’s  not  that  important,”  Ralph  says  firmly. 

“Oh,  it  is!”  she  cries,  and  then,  clenching  both  fists,  she  emits 
a  cry  of  impotent  rage — “Ahhh!” — and  the  class  laughs. 

“Why  don’t  you  lie  down?”  Ralph  says. 

“Will  you  lie  down  with  me?”-  ■ 

“No,  it’s  late.  I  got  to  go.”  ' 

“Okay,  go!”  she  says,  suddenly  directing  her  anger  at  Ralph. 
“You’re  not  that  good,  anyway.  I  just  thought  you  wanted  to. 
Charlie?” 

“What?” 

“If  he’s  not  making  the  picture,  then  why  are  you  seeing  him 
tomorrow  morning?  You’re  hiding  something  from  me!  I  know 
you’re  hiding  something  from  me!”  She  suddenly  bangs  the  back 
of  her  head  against  the  wall  once  again.  “You’re  hiding  some¬ 
thing  from  me.  I  know  you’re  hiding  something!  Mama  wants  to 
know.  Why?” 

“I’m  leaving,  Barbara.  I’m  going  to  Rome  with  Victor  in  the 
morning.” 

“Ah!”  she  says,  as  if  he  has  stabbed  her.  “Rome?  When  did  all 
this  come  about?” 

“Tonight.” 

“Was  this  all  decided  tonight?” 

“More  or  less.” 


FINAL  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH” 


209 


“I  see,”  she  says  calmly,  and  then  suddenly  loses  control  again. 
“You  stand  there  and  lie  to  me  like  that!  How  stupid  do  you  think 
I  am?  Don’t  tell  me  to  keep  quiet  because  I’m  not  keeping  quiet! 
I’ll  be  hysterical  if  I  want  to  be!  Ahhgh!  Ahhgh!  Ahhgh!” 

“I’m  not  going  to  talk  to  you  unless  you  calm  down.” 

“I’m  not  going  to  calm  down!  I  don’t  want  to  be  calm!  Take 
me  with  you!  Take  me  to  Rome!”  This  sudden  shift  is  funny,  and 
the  class  laughs.  “You  have  to,  you  have  to,  you  have  to!  What 
happened  to  me?  What  in  hell  happened  to  me?  Where  am  I  going 
to  go?  What  am  I  going  to  do?  I’ll  die  if  I  have  to  go  back  to 
Cleveland!” 

“Well,  don’t  go  there,”  Ralph  says,  then  turns  on  his  heel  and 
walks  out  the  door. 

“I’ll  make  you  sorry.  I’ll  make  you  sorry,  Charlie!”  Wendy 
says,  and  the  class  laughs. 

“I  liked  that  very  much,”  Meisner  says.  “That’s  a  picture  of  a 
Hollywood  actress  who  didn’t  get  the  job.  It  happens  about  three 
thousand  times  a  day  in  Beverly  Hills,”  he  adds.  “That's  the 
scene!  A  girl  from  Cleveland  comes  to  Hollywood  and  she’s  been 
there  for  five  years  and  hasn’t  even  gotten  into  a  manager’s  office. 
Her  friend  promises  her  he’s  going  to  get  her  a  part,  but  he 
doesn’t  even  mention  her!  You  know,  she  makes  fun  of  all  the 
streets  in  Beverly  Hills,  right?  That’s  like  being  so  angry  at  New 
York  that  you  go” — Meisner  shakes  his  first — “  ‘Fifth  Avenue, 
Fourth  Avenue,  Third  Avenue,  Lexington — I  hate  them  all!’  It’s 
not  a  geography  lesson.”  The  class  laughs.  “Listen,  Ralph,  in  this 
scene  you  find  yourself  in  the  presence  of  somebody  who  is 
beside  herself  over  something  you  consider  unimportant.  It’s  as 
if  you’re  saying,  ‘I’m  going  to  the  movies  with  another  girl  to¬ 
morrow  night,’  and  she  throws  one  of  her  temper  tantrums.  Well, 
you’re  still  going.” 

Ralph  nods. 

“Ray,  what  did  you  think  of  it?”  Meisner  asks. 

“It  was  wonderful.” 

“Tell  them.” 

“Tell  them?  It  was  hysterical.” 

“Why?” 

“There  were  two  completely  different  things  happening,”  Ray 


210 


says,  “yet  they  were  working  off  each  other.  She  was  terribly 
frustrated  and  he  was  blase,  and  that’s  what  real  comedy  is.  For 
the  third  reading  it  was  great'” 

“We’ve  spent  a  lot  of  time — I  don’t  know  how  much — on  the 
problem  of  using  yourself  truthfully.  Now  we’re  beginning  to 
edge  up  on  the  problem  of  playing  the  part.  The  emphasis  has 
been  primarily  on  ‘This  is  what  I’m  doing  and  I’m  doing  it 
truthfully.’  Now  the  question  coming  up  is  lHow  do  I  do  it?’  Do 
you  all  understand?  Is  this  shift  clear?” 

“So  we’re  bearing  on  the  problem  of  not  only  being  truthful, 
but  of  playing  the  role,”  Ralph  says. 

“Of  playing  the  part,  yes.  Wendy,  did  I  force  you  to  play  the 
part  of  that  dizzy  Hollywood  actress?” 

“Yes.” 

“We’re  not  only  bringing  truth  to  it.  We’re  also  doing  some¬ 
thing  specifically  dictated  by  the  character  and  the  circum¬ 
stances,”  Ralph  says. 

“So  what  was  the  point  of  today’s  class?”  Meisner  asks  Bette. 

“We’re  supposed  to  look  at  the  character  instead  of  ...” 

“Instead  of  merely  the  truth,”  Meisner  says,  turning  to  the 
class.  How  many  of  you  want  to  do  this  kind  of  work?” 

Every  student  shoots  up  a  hand. 


November  1 

Golden  Boy*  by 
Clifford  Odets 
act  1 ,  scene  4 

A  few  nights  later. 

Joe  and  Lorna  sit  on  a  bench  in  the  park.  It  is  night.  There  is  carrousel 
music  in  the  distance.  Cars  ride  by  in  front  of  the  boy  and  girl  in  the  late 

“Clifford  Odets,  Six  Plays  of  Clifford  Odets  (New  York:  The  Modern  Library, 
1939),  262-267. 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH' 


211 


spring  night.  Out  of  sight  a  traffic  light  changes  from  red  to  green  and 
back  again  throughout  the  scene  and  casts  its  colors  on  the  faces  of  the  boy 
and  girl. 


lorna: 


JOE: 

lorna: 

joe: 

lorna: 

joe: 


lorna: 

joe: 

LORNA: 

JOE: 

lorna: 

joe: 

lorna: 

Joe: 

lorna: 

Joe: 

lorna: 

Joe: 

lorna: 

JOE: 

lorna: 

Joe: 


Success  and  fame!  Or  just  a  lousy  living.  You’re 
lucky  you  won’t  have  to  worry  about  those 
things.  .  .  . 

Won’t  I? 

Unless  Tom  Moody’s  a  liar. 

You  like  him,  don’t  you? 

( After  a- pause)  I  like  him. 

I  like  how  you  dress.  The  girls  look  nice  in  the  sum¬ 
mertime.  Did  you  ever  stand  at  the  Fifth  Avenue  Li¬ 
brary  and  watch  those  girls  go  by? 

No,  I  never  did.  {Switching  the  subject.  )  That’s  the  carou¬ 
sel,  that  music.  Did  you  ever  ride  on  one  of  those? 
That’s  for  kids. 

Weren’t  you  ever  a  kid,  for  God’s  sake? 

Not  a  happy  kid. 

Why? 

Well,  I  always  felt  different.  Even  my  name  was  spe¬ 
cial — Bonaparte — and  my  eyes  .  .  . 

I  wouldn’t  have  taken  that  too  serious.  .  .  .  ( There  is- a 
silent  pause.  Joe  looks  straight  ahead.) 

Gee,  all  those  cars  .  .  . 

Lots  of  horses  trot  around  here.  The  rich  know  how 
to  live.  You’ll  be  rich.  .  .  . 

My  brother  Frank  is  an  organizer  for  the  C.I.O. 
What’s  that? 

If  you  worked  in  a  factory  you’d  know.  Did  you  ever 
work? 

{wtth  a  smile)  No,  when  I  came  out  of  the  cocoon  I  was 
a  butterfly,  and  butterflies  don’t  work. 

All  those  cars  .  .  .  whizz,  whizz.  {Now  turning-less  cas- 
ualr)  Where’s  Mr.  Moody  tonight? 

He  goes  to  see  his  kid  on  Tuesday  nights.  It’s  a  sick 
kid,  a  girl.  His  wife  leaves  it  at  her  mother’s  house. 
That  leaves  you  free,  don’t  it? 


■  7 

.  -  '  V  V*J§ 

lorna:  What  are  you  hinting  at? 

joe:  I’m  thinking  about  you  and  Mr.  Moody. 

lorna:  Why  think  about  it?  I  don’t.  Why  should  you? 

joe:  If  you  belonged  to  me  I  wouldn’t  think  about  it. 

lorna:  Haven’t  you  got  a  girl? 

joe:  No. 

lorna:  Why  not?  ,  >  • 

JOE:  (evasively)  Oh  ... 

lorna:  Tokio  says  you’re  going  far  in  the  fighting  game. 
joe:  Music  means  more  to  me.  May  I  tell  you  something? 

lorna:  Of  course. 

joe:  If  you  laugh,  I’ll  never  speak  to  you  again. 

lorna:  I’m  not  the  laughing  type. 

joe:  With  music  I’m  never  alone  when  I’m  alone — Playing 

music  .  .  .  that’s  like  saying,  “I’m  a  man.  I  belong  here. 
How  do  you  do,  World — good  evening!”  When  I  play 
music  nothing  is  closed  to  me.  I’m  not  afraid  of  people 
and  what  they  say.  There’s  no  war <  in  music.  It’s  not 
like  the  streets.  Does  this  sound  funny? 
lorna:  No. 

joe:  But  when  you  leave  your  room  .  .  .  down  in  the  street 

.  .  .  it’s  war!  Music  can’t  help  me  there.  Understand? 
lorna:  Yes. 

joe:  People  have  hurt  my  feelings  for  years.  I  never  forget. 

You  can’t  get  even  with  people  by  playing  the  fiddle. 

If  music  shot  bullets  I’d  like  it  better — artists  and  peo¬ 
ple  like  that  are  freaks  today.  The  world  moves  fast 
and  they  sit  around  like  forgotten  dopes. 
lorna:  You’re  loaded  with  fireworks.  Why  don’t  you  fight? 
joe:  You  have  to  be  what  you  are — ! 

lorna:  Fight!  see  what  happens — 
joe:  Or  end  up  in  the  bughouse! 

lorna:  God’s  teeth!  Who  says  you  have  to  be  one  thing? 
joe:  My  nature  isn’t  fighting! 

lorna:  Don’t  Tokio  know  what  he’s  talking  about?  Don’t 
Tom?  Joe,  listen:  be  a  fighter!  Show  the  world!  If  you 
made  your  fame  and  fortune — and  you  can — you’d  be 
anything  you  want.  Do  it!  Bang  your  way  to  the  light- 


213 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 


JOE: 

lorna: 

Joe: 

lorna: 

JOE: 

lorna: 

joe: 


lorna: 

JOE: 

lorna: 

JOE: 

LORNa: 


JOE: 

lorna: 

JOE: 

lorna: 

Joe: 

LORNA: 

JOE: 

LORNA: 

Joe: 

lorna: 


weight  crown.  Get  a  bank  account.  Hire  a  great  doctor 
with  a  beard — get  your  eyes  fixed— 

What’s  the  matter  with  my  eyes? 

Excuse  me,  I  stand  corrected.  (After  a  pause?)  You  get 
mad  all  the  time. 

That’s  from  thinking  about  myself. 

How  old  are  you,  Joe? 

Twenty-one  and  a  half,  and  the  months  are  going  fast. 
You’re  very  smart  for  twenty-one  and  a  half  “and  the 
months  are  going  fast.” 

Why  not?  I  read  every  page  of  the  Encyclopaedia  Britan- 
nica.  My  father’s  friend,  Mr.  Carp,  has  it.  A  shrimp 
with  glasses  had  to  do  something. 

I’d  like  to  meet  your  father.  Your  mother  dead? 

Yes. 

So  is  mine. 

Where  do  you  come  from?  The  city  is  full  of  girls  who 
look  as  if  they  never  had  parents. 

I’m  a  girl  from  over  the  river.  My  father  is  still  alive 
— shucking  oysters  and  bumming  drinks  somewhere 
in  the  wilds  of  Jersey.  I’ll  tell  you  a  secret:  I  don’t  like 
you. 

(surprised)  Why? 

You’re  too  sufficient  by  yourself  .  .  .  too  inside  your¬ 
self. 

You  like  it  or  you  don’t. 

You’re  on  an  island — 

Robinson  Crusoe  .  .  . 

That’s  right — “me,  myself,  and  I.”  Why  not  come  out 
and  see  the  world? 

Does  it  seem  that  way? 

Can’t  you  see  yourself? 

No.  ... 

Take  a  bird’s-eye  view;  you  don’t  know  what’s  right 
or  wrong.  You  don’t  know  what  to  pick,  but  you  won’t 
admit  it. 

Do  you? 

Leave  me  out.  This  is  the  anatomy  of  Joe  Bonaparte. 


joe: 

lorna: 


JOE: 

LORNA 

joe: 

lorna: 


Joe: 

lorna: 

JOE: 

lorna: 

JOE: 


lorna: 

Joe: 

LORNA: 

JOE: 


lorna: 

Joe: 

LORNA: 

Joe: 

lorna: 

joe: 

lorna: 

Joe:  - 


You’re  dancing  on  my  nose,  huh?  'jyj 

:  Shall  I  stop? 

No. 

You  re  a  miserable  creature.  You  want  your  arm  in gek 
up  to  the  elbow.  You’ll  take  fame  so  people  won’t 
laugh. or  scorn  your  face.  You’d  give  your  soul  for 
those  things.  But  every  time  you  turn  your  back  your 
little  soul  kicks  you  in  the  teeth.  It  don’t  give  in  so 
easy. 

And  what  does  your  soul  do  in  its  perfumed  vanity 
case? 

Forget  about  me. 

Don’t  you  want — ? 

{suddenly  quite  nasty)  I  told  you  to  forget  it! 

{quietly)  Moody  sent  you  after  me— a  decoy!  You  made 
a  mistake,  Lorna,  for  two  reasons.  I  make  up  my  own 
mind  to  fight.  Point  two,  he  doesn’t  know  you  don’t 
love  him — 

You’re  a  fresh  kid. 

In  fact  he  doesn’t  know  anything  about  you  at  all. 
(eballengtngly )  But  you  do? 

This  is  the  anatomy  of  Lorna  Moon:  She’s  a  lost  baby. 
She  doesn’t  know  what’s  right  or  wrong.  She’s  a  mis¬ 
erable  creature  who  never  knew  what  to  pick.  But 
she  d  never  admit  it.  And  I’ll  tell  you  why  you  picked 
Moody! 

You  don’t  know  anything. 

Go  home,  Lorna.  If  you  stay,  I’ll  know  something 
about  you.  ... 

You  don’t  know  anything. 

Now’s  your  chance — go  home! 

Tom  loves  me. 

{after  a  long  silence,  looking  ahead)  I’m  going  to  buy  a  car. 

They  make  wonderful  cars  today.  Even  the  liz¬ 
zies — 

Gary  Cooper’s  got  the  kind  I  want.  I  saw  it  in  the 
paper,  but  it  costs  too  much — fourteen  thousand.  If  I 
found  one  second-hand — 


lorna:  And  if  you  had  the  cash — 
joe:  I’ll  get  it — 

lorna:  Sure,  if  you’d  go  in  and  really  fight! 
joe:  (in  a  sudden- burst)  Tell  your  Mr.  Moody  I’ll  dazzle  the 

eyes  out  of  his  head! 
lorna:  You  mean  it? 


JOE:  (looking-  on  t- ahead)  Those  cars  are  poison  in  my  blood. 

When  you  sit  in  a  car  and  speed  you’re  looking  down 
at  the  world.  Speed,  speed,  everything  is  speed — no¬ 
body  gets  me! 

lorna:  You  mean  in  the  ring? 

joe:  In  or  out,  nobody  gets  me!  Gee,  I  like  to  stroke  that 

gas! 

lorna:  You  sound  like  Jack  the  Ripper. 
joe:  (standing  up  suddenly)  I’ll  walk  you  back  to  your  house 

—your  hotel,  I  mean.  (Lorna  stands.  Joe  continues. )  Do 
you  have  the  same  room? 

lorna:  (with- sneaking  admiration)  You’re  a  fresh  kid! 
joe:  When  you’re  lying  in  his  arms  tonight,  tell  him,  for 

me,  that  the  next  World’s  Champ  is  feeding  in  his 
stable. 

lorna:  Did  you  really  read  those  Britannica  books? 

joe:  From  A  to  Z. 

lorna:  And  you’re  only  twenty-one? 

joe:  And  a  half. 

lorna:  Something’s  wrong  somewhere. 
joe:  I  know  .  .  .  (they  slowly  walk  out  as) 

Fadeout 


“A  certain  kind  of  person  could  have  many  sides  to  his  character 
or  he  could  be  simple.  Now,  we  know  from  the  play,  Rachael, 
that  you’ve  been  sent  here  to  try  .to  persuade  him  to  fight.” 

“That’s  right.” 

“What  do  you  know  about  him?” 

“I  know  that  he  has  two  very  definite  sides  to  him.  On  the  one 
hand,  he  wants  to  fight.  On  the  other,  he’s  sensitive,  a  musician, 
and  he  has  to  make  a  decision  now  that  will  affect  the  rest  of  his 
life.” 


“Why  are  you  here?” 

I  m  here  because  Tom  Moody  wanted  me  to  convince  him  to 
fight.” 

“How  do  you  feel  about  that?” 

I  feel  that  I  owe  it  to  Tom.  He’s  been  good  to  me,  and  I’m 
doing  it  for  him.” 

“So  you’re  doing  it  to  pay  somebody  back,  would  vou  sav5” 

“Yes.”  r' 

“How  do  you  feel  about  Joe?” 

“I  feel  that  he’s  very  vulnerable,  but  I  know  he  has  a  wonderful 
opportunity.  He  has  a  choice,  and  I  really  don’t  have  a  lot  of 
sympathy  with  that.  I  sympathize  more  with  Tom  because  he 
really  doesn’t  have  a  choice.  He’s  a  loser.”  ' 

“Does  Joe  make  you  nervous?” 

“Yes.”  . 

“Why?” 

“Because  I  feel  drawn  to  him,  and  I  don’t  want  to  be.” 
“What  else  do  you  feel  about,  him?” 

“Well,  he’s  very  different  from  the  people  that  I’m  used  to.” 

“In  what  way?” 

“I  think  it’s  mostly  his  sensitivity.  A  young  man  who’s  sensi¬ 
tive  and  intelligent.  He’s  not  the  usual  type  hanging  around 
boxing  rings.” 

“Is  that  his  dominant  characteristic?” 

“No,  the  most  dominant  is  his  anger.  He  wants  to  get  back  at 
the  world  because  he  hates  it  that  people  have  made  him  feel 
different.” 

“Why  do  you  want  to  get  back  at  the  world?”  Meisner  asks  Ray. 

Because  I  m  different.  Because  people  have  made  fun  of  me. 
Because  I  can  t  get  ahead.  Because  I  don’t  know  which  direction 
to  go  in.”  Ray  pauses  for  a  moment  and  then  adds,  “Because  I’ve 
got  a  funny  name  and  my  eyes  are  weird.” 

If  you  go  into  a  butcher  shop  and  ask  for  a  couple  of  pounds 
of  lamb  chops  and  the  butcher  seems  to  hear  you  but  waits  on  two 
other  people  before  you,  how  do  you  feel?” 

“I  want  to  reach  over  the  counter  and  grab  him  by  the  tie  and 
tell  him  not  to  ignore  me!” 

Why  do  you  have  that  curious  reaction?” 


“Because  people  do  it  to  me  all  the  time.  They  behave  as  if  I’m 
not  there.” 

“The  nature  of  neuroses  is  very  peculiar.  Why  would  your 
neuroses  make  you  a  good  fighter?” 

“Because  it’s  power.  It  fuels  my  anger  and  it’s  what  makes  it 
possible  for  me  to  fight.”  Again  Ray  pauses  for  a  moment.  “Be¬ 
cause  everybody  I  fight  is  the  rest  of  the  world.” 

“What’s  the  name  of  the  heavyweight  who  just  quit?” 

“Muhammad  Ali?” 

“Yeah.  Do  you  think  that  his  neuroses  were  part  of  what  made 
him  a  champion?”  ' 

“Yes.” 

“So  Joe  Bonaparte  is  like  an  unrecognized  Muhammad  Ali.  Do 
you  follow?” 

“Yes.” 

“Rachael,  how  would  you  like  to  argue  with  Muhammad  Ali 
that  white  people  are  superior  to  colored  people?” 

“I  don’t  think  I’d  like  to.” 

“Suppose  you  had  to?” 

“It  would  make  me  very  nervous.” 

“To  say  the  least.” 

“Yeah.” 

“So  we’re  really  talking  about  two  neurotics,  each  in  his  own 
way,  right?” 

Ray  and  Rachael  nod. 

“All  right,”  Meisner  says,  “prepare  and  let’s  hear  a  reading.” 

They  leave  the  room  to  prepare  and  when  the  reading  is  over, 
Meisner  says,  “I  want  to  talk  about  this.  You’ve  got  something 
bordering  on  the  character.” 

“Are  you  talking  about  me?”  Ray  asks. 

“Yeah.  Rachael,  why  does  she  say,  ‘I  don’t  like  you’?” 

“She  can’t  control  him.  He’s  locked  inside  himself  and  she 
can’t  get  to  him.” 

“I’ll  help  you,”  Meisner  says.  “He’s  just  told  you  about  himself, 
hasn’t  he?” 

“Yes.” 

“Ray,  what  did  you  say?” 

“I  told  her  that  people  always  make  fun  of  me  and  that  I  don’t 


iilB 


forget  it.  That  I  wish  music  could  shoot  bullets  so  that  I  could 
get  back  at  those  people.  That  music  makes  me  feel  like  a  man. 
I  can  say,  ‘Here  I  am  and  it’s  okay  to  be  that.’  But  at  the  same  time 
I  feel  that  people  who  play  music  just  sit  around  like  forgotten 
dopes  while  the  world  passes  them  by.” 

“Where  does  she  say,  ‘I  don’t  like  you’?” 

“It’s  a  little  later  on.” 

“It’s  after  he  asks  her  about  herself,”  Rachael  says. 

“That’s  right.  How  does  she  feel  about  herself?” 

“She  doesn’t  feel  good  at  all  about  herself.” 

“Her  past  is  very  sad,  but  she  tells  him  about  it,  and  then  she 
says,  ‘I  don’t  like  you.’  Why  does  she  say  that?” 

“To  change  the  subject?” 

“No,  he  doesn’t  listen  to  a  word  you  say.  He’s  entirely  wrapped 
up  in  himself.” 

“I  see,”  Rachael  says. 

“How  come  I  didn’t  know  that?”  Ray  says. 

“Because  I’m  smarter  than  you!”  Meisner  says,  and  the  class 
laughs.  “Ray,  why  does  he  like  cars?” 

“Because  they  make  him  feel  that  he’s  on  top  of  the  world. 
When  he  goes  fast  in  a  car  the  sensation  matches  the  energy  that’s 
pent-up  inside  him  and  he  feels  more  at  peace.  I’m  making  this 
up,”  Ray  adds. 

“Of  course,”  Meisner  says.  “Where  else  are  you  going  to  get  it? 
Cars  are  powerful.”  After  a  pause  Meisner  continues.  “Don’t  you 
see  how  all  of  this,  Rachael,  has  a  tantalizing  effect  on  you?  He’s 
pathetic,  and  yet  there’s  something  tragic  about  him,  something 
dangerous.” 

“Yes.” 

“The  cue  is  when  you  say,  ‘You  know,  I  don’t  like  you.’  You 
get  it,  Ray,  don’t  you?” 

“Yeah.  He’s  ready  to  punch  you  in  the  mouth  one  minute  and 
then  to  apologize  sweetly  the  next.” 

“Do  you  realize  how  much  sadism  there  is  in  him  when  he 
says,  ‘If  only  violins  had  bullets’?” 

“I  had  a  sense  of  that,  but  maybe  I  didn’t  realize  how  much 
there  is.” 

“Rachael,  a  person  like  that  can  make  you  nervous.” 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH"  2 1  V 

“Yes.” 

“Your  walk  with  him  from  Moody’s  office  to  the  park  was 
nerve-racking,  you  follow?  You’re  not  using  your  powder  puff 
because  you  want  to  make  sure  your  powder  is  smooth.  Why  do 
you  use  it?” 

“Sweat?”  Rachael  asks. 

“Sweat!  Have  you  got  a  clearer  idea?” 

“Yes,”  Ray  says.  “It’s  much  clearer.” 

“Well,  work  on  that.” 


November  8 

“That  was  much  better,  but  Rachael,  it’s  not  passionate  enough. 
Lorna’s  feelings  have  been  very  hurt  and  I  think  that  makes  you 
angry.” 

“You  mean  it  has  to  be  more  sad?” 

“No,  more  vigorous!  Why  does  she  say,  ‘Tom  loves  me’?  Why 
doesn’t  she  say,  ‘I  love  Tom’?” 

“Because  she  doesn’t  love  Tom.” 

“Why  does  she  live  with  him?” 

“She  owes  him.  He’s  been  good  to  her  and  he  loves  her.” 
“It’s  because  he  loves  her?” 

“Yes.”  - 

“No,  it’s  because  she  was  tired  of  being  treated  like  a  whore!” 
“I  see.” 

“When  you  begin,  how  do  you  know  Joe’s  not  going  to  take  a 
poke  at  you?” 

“I  don’t  know.” 

“Doesn’t  that  make  you  nervous?” 

“Sure,  but  I  didn’t  really  want  to  show  him  that  I  was  nervous 
because  I  also  have  to  convince  him — ” 

“That’s  literary!  You  be  what  you  are!  If  you  were  a  salesman 
about  to  enter  a  fancy  office  and  will  come  out  with  a  big  order 
and  a  big  commission  if  you’re  lucky,  would  you  be  nervous?” 
“Yes.” 

“But  you’d  try  to  stay  composed?” 

“Right.  You  mean  in  that  situation?” 


220 


“In  this  situation'.”  ?•%» 

“I  should  try  to  stay  composed?  I  don’  t  understands 
“You’re  going  to  get  a  tremendous  or deri 
nervous.  Try  to  control  it!” 

“Okay.” 

“Ray,  what  does  driving  a  car  fast  mean?'  I ustvpo wer>?JI 
going  eighty  miles  an  hour.  Is  it  just  pow'er?”  5V$$b 
“No,  it’s  freedom,  too.  Also  it’s  calm.  The  last  tim'eTyoul^ 
me  this  question  I  said  that  it  was  as  ifhe  himself$w/0gqij[ 
eighty  miles  an  hour,  so  when  he  gets  in  the  car  and  it  goes  eigl 
miles  an  hour  it’s  almost  peaceful.  He  needs  to  do  it,” 

“It’s,  sexual.”  ■ 

“You  have  a  better  vocabulary  than  I  do,”  Ray  says,  and  th’e| 
class  laughs.  “No,  I  understand  what  you  mean.” 

“What  do  you  think  of  the  street?”  ~ 

“That  it’s  war.  That  it’s  a  place  where  I  have  to  fight. ”?T0§|| 
“How  do  you  feel  about  that?” 

“I  hate  it.  I’m  willing  to  fight  back,  but  it  makes  me  mad.”A| 
“You  hate  it.” 

“But  I’m  not  going  to  get  beat  up  by  it.  I’ll  strike  back.’hy^ 
“It  makes  you  feel  like  nobody.  That’s  a  terrible  feeling  to  have.”:  .. 
“A  different  feeling,  then.  Feeling  like  nobody  is  different  than  f 
feeling  mad,  isn’t  it?  If  it  makes  me  feel  like  nobody,  wouldn’t  it 
make  the  whole  scene  more  introspective?  That’s  what  feeling.-* 
like  nobody  means  to  me.  But  the  Street  makes  me  mad,  so  it’s  the  | 
opposite  of  introspection.” 

“  ‘If  a  violin  could  only  speak  bullets!’  That’s  a  burning  aspira-.-jj 


■m 


tion!  It’s  too  bad  you’re  not  Jewish!” 

“Why?  Do  you  have  to  be  Jewish  to  play  the  scene?”  '< 

“You  need  that  kind  of  intensity.” 

“He’s  Italian!”  Ray  says. 

“The  same  thing.” 

•  “I’ll  get  it,”  •  .  '-  Vi 

“You  had  good  moments  this  time.  So  did  she,  except  she’s  not; 
driving  enough.  Do  you  intimidate  her?”  ; 

“You  mean  in  reality?  In  the  rehearsal  process?  No,  I  don’t 
think  I  do.  But  it  would  help  the  scene,  wouldn’t  it?”  y 

Meisner  nods. 


||lhe  Seagull  by 
|;Anton  Chekhov* 
%from  act  3 


Borin  and  Medviedenko  go  out.) 


I 


if'ARKADINA: 

kTREPLYOV: 


arkadina: 

TREPLYOV: 

arkadina: 

TREPLYOV: 

arkadina: 


TREPLYOV: 


Oh,  how  he  frightened  me. 

It  isn  t  good  for  him  to  live  in  the  country.  He  gets 
too  depressed.  If  you  suddenly  felt  generous, 
Mother,  and  lent  him  a  thousand  or  even  two  he 
could  spend  a  whole  year  in  town. 

I  don  t  have  any  money.  I’m  an  actress,  not  a 
banker.  (Pause. ) 

Will  you  change  my  bandage  for  me,  Mother?  You 
do  it  so  well. 

(Taking  a  bottle  of  iodine  and  a.  box  of  bandages  from  the 
chest.)  The  doctor’s  late  today. 

Yes,  he  promised  to  be  here  at  ten  and  it’s  twelve 
now. 

Sit  down.  (She  takes  off  his  bandage .)  You  look  as  if 
you’re  wearing  a  turban.  Yesterday  somebody 
asked  them  in  the  kitchen  what  nationality  you 
were.  The  wound  is  almost  healed.  Just  a  little  scar 
left.  (She  kisses  hts  head. )  You  won’t  do  anything  silly 
again  while  I’m  away,  will  you? 

No,  Mother.  It  was  a  moment  of  despair;  I  didn’t 
have  any  control  over  myself.  It  won’t  happen 
again.  (He  kisses  her  hands.)  You  have  such  golden 
hands,  Mama.  I  remember  a  long  time  ago  when 
you  were  still  playing  in  the  state  theaters — I  was 
very  young  then — there  was  a  fight  in  our  court¬ 
yard  and  one  of  the  other  tenants,  a  washerwoman, 
was  almost  beaten  to  death.  Do  you  remember?  She 
was  unconscious  when  they  picked  her  up  and  you 


*Jean-Claude  Van  Italie,  trans.  (New  York,  Hagerstown,  San  Francisco, 
London:  Perennnial  Library,  Harper  &  Row,  1977),  SO-53. 


arkadina: 

TREPLYOV: 

ARKADINA: 

TREPLYOV: 

ARKADINA: 

TREPLYOV: 

ARKADINA: 

TREPLYOV: 


ARKADINA: 


TREPLYOV: 


ARKADINA: 


TREPLYOV: 


nursed  her,  you  took  medicine  to  her"! '^anSivta 
washed  her  children  in  a  tub.  Don’t  you  rempi^ 
ber?  ,  /sa: 

No.  ( She  puts  on  a  fresh  bandage .) 

There  were  two  young  ballerinas  living  in  that3 
same  house.  You  used  to  have  them  over  for  coffee. 

I  remember  that.  ;4j 

They  were  terribly  pious,  weren’t  they?  ( Pause f 
These  past  few  days,  Mama,  I’ve  loved  you  as  inno-  • 
cently  and  completely  as  when  I  was  a  child.  Only 
why  do  you  let  yourself  fall  under  the  influence  of 
that  man? 

Konstantin,  you  don’t  understand  him,  he  has  a 
very  noble  character. 

When  he  was  told  I  was  going  to  challenge  him  to 
a  duel  his  noble  character  didn’t  stop  him  from 
being  a  coward.  He’s  leaving.  An  ignominious  re¬ 
treat. 

Nonsense!  It  was  I  who  asked  him  to  leave. 

What  a  noble  character!  You  and  I  are  almost  quar¬ 
reling  over  him  in  here  and  he’s  probably  some¬ 
where  in  the  drawing  room  or  the  garden  laughing 
at  us — expanding  Nina’s  mind,  trying  to  convince 
her  that  he’s  a  genius. 

You  seem  to  enjoy  saying  disagreeable  things  to 
me.  I’ve  told  you  I  respect  him,  and  I’ll  thank  you 
not  to  speak  badly  of  him  in  my  presence  again. 
But  I  don’t  respect  him.  You  want  me  to  think  he’s 
a  genius,  too.  Well,  I’m  sorry,  but  I  can’t  lie  about 
it:  his  books  make  me  sick. 

That’s  just  envy.  People  with  no  talent  are  always 
putting  down  real  genius.  It  must  be  very  comfort¬ 
ing  to  you. 

{Ironically-. )  Real  genius!  {Angrily?)  I’ve  got  more 
genius  than  any  of  you  if  it  comes  down  to  that. 
{Tears  off  his  bandage. )  You  and  he  and  your  boring 
old  ideas,  you’ve  taken  over  the  arts,  and  you  won’t 
recognize  or  tolerate  anything  except  your  own 


•H 


arkadina: 

TREPLYOV: 

arkadina: 


TREPLYOV: 

arkadina: 


TREPLYOV: 


arkadina: 


TREPLYOV: 

arkadina: 


TREPLYOV: 


conventional  trivia.  You  want  to  sit  and  suppress 
everything  else.  Well,  I  don’t  accept  your  high  ar¬ 
tistic  opinions  of  yourselves.  I  don’t  accept  his  and 
I  don’t  accept  yours! 

You’re  decadent,  that’s  what  you  are! 

Well,  then  go  on  back  to  your  precious  theater  and 
act  in  your  trashy  third-rate  plays! 

I  have  never  acted  in  trashy  third-rate  plays.  Why 
don’t  you  leave  me  alone?  You  couldn’t  even  write 
a  cheap  vaudeville  sketch.  Little  middle-class  in¬ 
habitant  of  Kiev!  Sponger! 

Miser! 

Beggar!  (He -si ts  down- and  cries  softly: )  Little  nobody! 
(She -walks  up  and  down  excitedly. )  Don’t  cry!  Please 
don’t  cry,  Kostya.  (She  cries  herself .)  Darling,  do  stop! 
(She  kisses -him  on  his  forehead,  his  cheeks ,  his  head.) 
My  darling,  forgive  me!  Forgive  your  wicked  mo¬ 
ther.  I’m  such  a  miserable  person,  please  forgive 


me. 


If  you  only  knew.  I’ve  lost  every¬ 
thing.  She  doesn’t  love  me  now  and  I  can’t  write. 
I  have  no  hope. 

Don’t  feel  like  that,  my  darling.  It’ll  all  work  out. 
He’s  leaving  today.  She’ll  love  you  again. 
(She  wipes  away  his  tears.)  There,  that’s  enough. 
We’ve  made  up  now. 

(Kissing  her  hands. )  Yes,  Mama.  < 

(Tenderly. )  Make  up  with  him,  too.  You  don’t  really 
want  a  duel.  It’s  too  silly. 

All  right,  Mother,  only  please  don’t  make  me  see 
him  again.  That  would  be  too  much.  I  couldn’t 
stand  it.  (Trigorin  comes  in.)  Here  he  is.  I’m  going. 
(He  quickly  puts  the  bandages  and  iodine  back  into 
the  medicine  chest.)  The  doctor  will  bandage  me 
later.  ... 


“Mary,  what  do  you  think  of  your  son?  Have  you  thought 
about  it?” 


;  “Yes.  I  feel  guilty  about  him,  but  I  also  feel  threatened  by  him. 
He’s  a  terrible  nuisance  and  an  embarrassment.” 

'  “Why?”  •  ■■ 

“He’s  critical  of  me  and  of  my  work.  He  dislikes  my  friends 
and  is  rude  to  them.  I  also  don’t  like  having  a  big,  oafish  son 
around  all  the  time.  He  gets  in  the  way  of  my  life.” 

“So  you  just  tolerate  him.” 

“I  keep  him  off  on  the  farm,  stuck  out  in  the  country.” 

“Why?” 

-  “Well,  in  the  first  place  I  can’t  part  with  .money.  I  just  can’t. 
It’s  like  a  physical-incapacity.  And  it  would  take  money  to  do 
anything  with  him.  He’d  have  to  have  more  education,  better 
clothes.  And  his  being  as  old  as  he  ismakes  me  feel  my  age  and 
makes  other  people  aware  of  it.  I  feel  it  might  interfere  with  my 
career.  I  think  she’s  desperate  to  keep  her  life  as  it  is,  and  she 
doesn’t  want  to  have  somebody  around  that  she  has  to  do  some¬ 
thing  about.  But  also  she  can’t  stand  anybody  who  is  with  her  not 
to  love  her.” 

“All  the  things  you  say  are  true.  John,  what  about  you  and  your 
mother  and  the  girl  you  love  and  the  writer  who  is  flirting  both 
with  the  girl  and  your  mother?  They’re  all  mixed  up.  Chekhov 
is  a  terrible  playwright!”  The  class  laughs.  “What  do  you  want?” 

“I  want  her  to  care  about  me.  I  feel  that  she  doesn’t  really  pay 
much  attention  to  me — ” 

“To  say  the  least!  What  you  want  is  love  from  your  mother,  the 
kind  of  love  you  get  from  a  mother.  How  did  you  get  that  ban¬ 
dage  around  your  head?” 

“I  tried  to  shoot  myself.” 

“You  must  have  been  pretty  unhappy.  Why  do  you  ask  her  to 
fix  the  bandage  on  your  head?” 

“So  that  I’ll  get  some  sympathy  from  her.” 

,  “But  it  doesn’t  come  out  that  way.” 

•“Right.” 

“She  tells  you  the  truth,  probably  for  the  first  time,  and  you 
tell  her  how  you  feel  about  her.  Bring  in  the  scene  for  next  time. 
Read  it  very  easily.  By  ‘easily’  I  mean  don’t  try  to  make  a  per¬ 
formance  out  of  it.  Know  why  you  say  everything  you  say.  Mary, 
how  do  you  feel  about  his  asking  you  to  fix  his  bandage?” 


225 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 

“Well,  I  hadn’t  thought  about  that,  but  I  don’t  think  she 
minds.” 

“I  think  she  does.” 

“You  think  she  minds?  Why?  Because  she  resents  his  trying  to 
kill  himself  and  making  such  a  fuss  and  getting  all  this  attention 
and  she  has  to  do  the  dirty  work?”  Meisner  nods.  “I  see. 

“She’s  like  a  nurse  who  has  to  take  care  of  a  patient  she  has  no 
sympathy  for.  That’s  why  the  last  part  of  the  scene  comes  out  of 
her  so  easily.  It’s  the  way  she  thinks  of  him  anyway.” 

“I  see,”  Mary  says. 

“John,  why  don’t  you  wait  for  the  doctor?” 

“Because  I  want  my  mother  to  do  it  as  a  gesture  of  caring  and 

love” 

“Next  time  take  an  easy  reading  of  this  text.  Ask  yourself  all 
the  questions  that  you  need  to  ask.  Why  do  I  do  this?  Why  do  I 
say  this?  Try  to  understand  the  scene.  Chekhov’s  terrible.  He  s 
really  terrible.” 

“He  crams  too  much  humanity  into  his  plays,”  Ray  says. 
“Why  didn’t  you  like  Baron  Toozenbach?”  Scott  Roberts 

asks.  .  _  . 

“I  couldn’t  understand  him.  I  understand  this  scene.  This  is 
one  of  his  easier  ones.  Provided  you  know  that  ninety  circum¬ 
stances  go  into  each  moment.” 


November  19 

“You  know,  if  you  took  a  sensitive,  tremulous  young  man—you 
can  practically  see  the  nerves  quivering  in  his  face  who  believes 
that  to  be  considered  talented  means  to  be  loved,  and  his  mother 
says,  ‘You’re  talentless,’  then  in  essence  his.  mother  is  saying 
that'she  doesn’t  love  him.  It’s  tough  to  take,  isn’t  it?  Basically, 
to  be  talented  is  to  be  loved.  If  I  had  the  ability,  the  power,  the 
influence  to  say  to  you,  ‘John,  stay  in  your  father’s  business 
because  .  .’  I’d  like  to  see  the  scene  when  you’re  home  by 

yourself  remembering.  That’s  how  strong  it  is,  except  you  exper¬ 
ience  it  right  here.  Understand?” 

“Yes.” 


“If  you  re  trying  to  be  an  artist  and  she  says  to  you,  ‘You  have 
no  talent,’  what  do  you  do?” 

‘I  think  I’d  kill  myself,”  John  says. 

“Yes.  And  Mary,  you  see  you’ve  gone  a  little  too  far.  The  other 
person  is  wounded.  What  do  you  say?” 

I  m  sorry,  I  didn’t  mean  that.’  But  I  have  a  lot  of  trouble  with 
that  line.  It  leaves  almost  nothing  for  her  to  do  in  this  scene.  She 
really  is  affected  by  him,  isn’t  she?  Or  is  it  all  just  superficial?” 

“He’s  a  pest!  From  the  very  beginning.  She’s  the  nurse,  and 
when  the  patient  says,  ‘Can  I  have  a  drink  of  water,’  she  gives  it 
to  him,  but  under  her  breath,  she’s  saying  ‘Why  doesn’t  he  get 
out  of  here!’  You  follow?” 

1  follow,  but  it’s  just .  .  .  Why  is  she  so  bad?”  Mary  blurts  out, 
and  then  laughs  nervously.  “She’s  selfish  and  she’s — ” 

“She’s  a  mother!” 

“Yes.” 

“She’s  an  actress!” 

“Yes.” 

“She  has  a  lover!” 

“Yes.” 

“Who’s  playing  around  with  her  son’s  girl!” 

“Yes.” 

“She’s  got  a  son  who’s  older  than  the  girl!” 

“Yes.” 

“It’s  enough  to  drive  her  crazy!” 

“Yes.” 

“You  understand?” 

“Yes.” 

“The  rest  of  it  is.  submerged,  but  it  comes  to  the  surface  pretty 
quickly.” 

“I  see.  Yes.”  . 

“Now  break  him  down!”  Meisner  says. 

“Okay.  In  a  way,  it’s  all  his  fault.  If  he  was  man  enough  to  keep 
his  girl,  we  wouldn’t  all  be  in  this  mess.” 

“If  he  was  man  enough  to  at  least  move  to  another  city!” 
Meisner  says,  and  the  class  laughs. 

Mary  says,  “I  thought  about  that,  Sandy,  and  my  feeling  is  that 
it’s  not  that  she  hates  him;  it’s  that  all  she  can  manage  is — You 


227 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 


don’t  buy  that?  I  think  there’s  a  kind  of  gallantry  in  that  she  does 
what  she  can  with  her  own  life.” 

“But  he  exists!” 

“And  that’s  the  insult?” 

“Look  what  she  calls  him!” 

“Yes.” 

“It’s  very  destructive,  isn’t  it?” 

“Yes.” 

“Why  does  she  say  it?  Does  she  mean  it?” 

“Yes,  I  think  she  does.” 

“Well,  mean  it!” 

“Okay.” 

“Destroy  him!  This  scene  isn’t  about  a  bandage!  The  scene  is 
about  a  mother’s  love — or  lack  of  it!  You  could  wait  for  a  bandage, 
but  you  can’t  wait  one  second  more  for  your  mother’s  love.  You 
follow,  John?” 

“Yeah.” 

“She  gives  you  two  slaps  to  the  face,  and  that’s  all  you  feel!  This 
has  nothing  to  do  with  a  bandage;  it  has  to  do  with  survival!” 

“Yes,”  Mary  says. 

“Prepare  much  more — much  more.  Focus  on  the  jealousy,  Mary, 
and  the  desolation.  ,1  could  go  on,  but  go  on  yourself.  You  fol¬ 
low?” 

“Yes,  I  do.  Do  you  want  us  to  throw  away  the  book,  or  should 
we  read  it  again?” 

“It  will  come  by  itself.” 

“Okay,” 


November  8 

Summer  and  Smoke  by 
Tennessee  Williams* 
part  1,  scene  6 

"Tennessee  Williams’s  Tennessee  Williams:  Four  Plays  (New  York  and  Scar¬ 
borough,  Ontario:  New  American  Library,  1976),  72-83  and  112-120. 


226 


A  delicately  suggested  arbor ,  enclosing  a  table  and  two  chairs.  Over  the 
table  is  suspended  a  torn  paper  lantern.  .  .  .  John’s  voice  is  audible  before 
be  and  Alma  enter. 

(from  the  darkness)  I  don’t  understand  why  we  can’t  go 
in  the  casino. 

You  do  understand.  You’re  just  pretending  not  to. 
Give  me  one  reason. 

(coming  into  the  arbor)  I  am  a  minister’s  daughter. 
That  s  no  reason.  (He  follows  her  in.  He  wears  a  white 
linen  suit,  carrying  the  coat  over  his  arm.) 

You’re  a  doctor.  That’s  a  better  reason.  You  can’t  any 
more  afford  to  be  seen  in  such  places  than  I  can — less! 
(bellowing)  Dusty! 

( from  the  darkness)  Coming! 

What  are  you  fishing  in  that  pocketbook  for? 
Nothing. 

What  have  you  got  there? 

Let  go! 

Those  sleeping  tablets  I  gave  you5 
Yes. 

What  for? 

I  need  one. 

Now? 

Yes. 

Why? 

Why?  Because  I  nearly  died  of  heart  failure  in  your 
automobile.  What  possessed  you  to  drive  like  that?  A 
demon? 

(Gusty  enters:) 

A  bottle  of  vino  rosso. 
busty.  S-u-re.  (He  withdraws.) 

Hey!  Tell  Shorty  I  want  to  hear-  the  “Yellow  Dog 
Blues.”  • 

alma:  Please  give  me  back  my  tablets. 


JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

BUSTY: 

JOHN: 

ALMA: 

JOHN: 

ALMA: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

ALMA: 

JOHN: 

ALMA: 

JOHN: 

ALMA: 


FINAL  SCEI 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

BUST-V 

ALMA. 

JOHN: 

ALMA: 

JOHN: 

ALMA: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

ALMA: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

ALMA: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 


JOHN: 

alma: 


5:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH"  2  29 

You  want  to  turn  into  a  dope-fiend  taking  this  stuff? 
I  said  take  one  when  you  need  one. 

I  need  one  now. 

Sit  down  and  stop  swallowing  air.  (Busty- returns  with 
a  tall  wine  bottle  and  two  thin  stemmed  glasses?)  When  does 
the  cockfight  start? 

’Bout  ten-o'clock,  Dr.-  John-nyr 
When  d ees-taha-t- ■  st-a-r-t? 

They  have  a  cockfight  here  every  Saturday  night.  Ever 
seen  one?  . 

Perhaps  in  some  earlier  incarnation  of  mine. 

When  you  wore  a  brass  ring  in  your  nose? 

Then  maybe  I  went  to  exhibitions  like  that. 

You’re  going  to  see  one  tonight. 

Oh,  no,  I’m  not. 

That’s  what  we  came  here  for. 

I  didn’t  think  such  exhibitions  were  legal. 

This  is  Moon  Lake  Casino  where  anything  goes. 
And  you’re  a  frequent  patron? 

I’d  say  constant. 

Then  I’m  afraid  you  must  be  serious  about  giving  up 
your  medical  career. 

You  bet  I  am!  A  doctor’s  life  is  walled  in  by  sickness 
and  misery  and  death. 

May  I  be  so  presumptuous  as  to  inquire  what.you’ll  do 
when  you  quit? 

You  may  be  so  presumptuous  as  to  inquire. 

But  you  won’t  tell  me? 

I  haven’t  made  up  my  mind,  but  I’ve  been  thinking  of 
South  America  lately. 

(sadly )  Oh  .... 

I’ve  heard  that  cantinas  are  lots  more  fun  than  saloons, 
and  senoritas  are  caviar  among  females. 

Dorothy  Sykes’  brother  went  to  South  America  and 
was  never  heard  of  again.  It  takes  a  strong  character 
to  survive  in  the  tropics.  Otherwise  it’s  a  quagmire. 
You  think  my  character’s  weak? 

I  think,  you’re  confused,  just  awfully,  awfully 


JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 

JOHN: 


alma: 

JOHN: 

alma: 


John: 

alma: 


confused,  as  confused  as  I  am — but  in  a  different 
way.  .  .  . 

{stretching  out  his  legs)  Hee-haw,  ho-hum. 

You  used  to  say  that  as  a  child — to  signify  your  dis¬ 
gust! 

( grinning )  Did  I? 

{sharply )  Don’t  sit  like  that! 

Why  not? 

You  look  so  indolent  and  worthless. 

Maybe  I  am. 

If  you  must  go  somewhere,  why  don’t  you  choose  a 
place  with  a  bracing  climate? 

'  Parts  of  South  America  are  as  cool  as  a  cucumber. 

I  never  knew  that. 

Well,  now  you  do. 

Those  Latins  all  dream  in  the  sun — and  indulge  their 
senses. 

Well,  it’s  yet  to  be  proven  that  anyone  on  this  earth  is 
crowned  with  so  much  glory  as  the  one  that  uses  his 
senses  to  get  all  he  can  in  the  way  of  .  .  .  satisfaction. 
Self-satisfaction? 

What  other  kind  is  there? 

I  will  answer  that  question  by  asking  you  one.  Have 
you  ever  seen  or  looked  at  a  picture  of  a  Gothic  cathe¬ 
dral? 

Gothic  cathedrals?  What  about  them? 

How  everything  reaches  up,  how  everything  seems  to 
be  straining  for  something  out  of  the  reach  of  stone — 
or  human — fingers?  ...  The  immense  stained  win¬ 
dows,  the  great  arched  doors  that  are  five  or  six  times 
the  height  of  the  tallest  man — the  vaulted  ceiling  and 
ail  the  delicate  spires — all  reaching  up  to  something 
beyond  attainment!  To  me— well,  that  is  the  secret, 
the  principle  back  of  existence — the  everlasting  strug¬ 
gle  and  aspiration  for  more  than  our  human  limits 
have  placed  in  our  reach  .  .  .  Who  was  it  that  said  that 
—oh,  so  beautiful  thing!— “All  of  us  are  in  the  gutter, 
but  some  of  us  are  looking  at  the  stars!” 


231 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 


john:  Mr.  Oscar  Wilde. 

alma:  {somewhat — taken — aback )  Well,  regardless  of  who 

said  it,  it’s  still  true.  Some  of  us  are  looking  at  the 
stars!  {She  looks  up — raptly  and  places  her  hand  over 
his, 7) 

john:  It’s  no  fun  holding  hands  with  gloves  on,  Miss  Alma. 

alma:  That’s  easily  remedied.  I’ll  just  take  the  gloves  off. 
(Music  is  heard.) 

john:  Christ!  {He  rises ■  abruptly-and  lights  a  cigarette.)  Rosa 

Gonzales  is  dancing  in  the  casino. 
alma:  You  are  unhappy.  You  hate  me  for  depriving  you  of 
the  company  inside.  Well,  you’ll  escape  by  and  by. 
You’ll  drive  me  home  and  come  back  out  by  yourself. 

.  .  .  I’ve  only  gone  out  with  three  young  men  at  all 
seriously,  and  with  each  one  there  was  a  desert  be¬ 
tween  us. 

john:  What  do  you  mean  by  a  desert? 

alma:  Oh — wide,  wide  stretches  of  uninhabitable  ground. 
john:  Maybe  you  made  it  that  way  by  being  stand-offish. 

alma:  Oh,  I  .  .  .  tried  to  entertain  them  the  first  few  times. 

I  would  play  and  sing  for  them  in  the  Rectory  parlor. 
john:  With  your  father  in  the  next  room  and  the  door  half 

open? 

alma:  I  don’t  think  that  was  the  trouble. 
john:  ;What  was  the  trouble? 

alma:  I ...  I  didn’t  have  my  heart  in  it.  {She  laughs  uncertainly. ) 

A  silence  would  fall  between  us.  You  know,  a  silence? 
john:  Yes,  I  know  a  silence. 

alma:  I’d  try  to  talk  and  he’d  try  to  talk  and  neither  would 
make  a  go  of  it. 

john:  The  silence  would  fall? 
alma:  Yes,  the  enormous  silence. 

john:  Then  you’d  go  back  to  the  piano? 

alma:  I’d  twist  my  ring.  Sometimes  I  twisted  it  so  hard  that 
the  band  cut  my  finger!  He’d  glance  at  his  watch  and 
we’d  both  know  that  the  useless  undertaking  had  come 
to  a  close  . 

You’d  call  it  quits? 


JOHN: 


232  -  -Qwl 

alma:  Quits  is  what  we’d  call  it  .  .  .  One  or  two  times  I  was 

rather  sorry  about  it.  ■ 

JOHN:  But  you  didn’t  have  your  heart  in  it? 

alma:  None  of  them  really  engaged  my  serious  feelings. 

John:  You  do  have  serious  feelings — of  that  kind? 

alma:  Doesn’t  everyone — sometimes? 
john:  Some  women  are  cold.  Some  women  are  what  is  called 

frigid. 

alma:  Do  I  give  that  impression? 

john:  Under  the  surface  you  have  a  lot  of  excitement,  a  great 

deal  more  than  any  other  woman  I  have  met.  So  much 
that  you  have  to  carry  these  sleeping  pills  with 
you.  The  question  is  why?  (He  leans  over  and  lifts  her 
veil.) 

alma:  What  are  you  doing  that  for? 

john:  So  I  won’t  get  your  veil  in  my  mouth  when  I  kiss  you. 

alma:  ( faintly )  Do  you  want  to  do  that? 
john:  {gently )  Miss  Alma.  (He  takes  her  arms  and  draws  her  to 

her  feet.)  Oh,  Miss  Alma,  Miss  Alma!  (He  kisses  her.) 
alma:  Not  “Miss”  any  more.  Just  Alma. 

John:  ( grinning  gently)  “Miss”  suits  you  better,  Miss  Alma. 

(He  kisses  her  again.  She  hesitantly  touches  his  shoulders,  but 
not  quite  to  push  him  away.  John  speaks  softly  to  her. )  Is  it 
so  hard  to  forget  you’re  a  preacher’s  daughter? 
alma:  There  is  no  reason  for  me  to  forget  that  I  am  a  minis¬ 
ter’s  daughter.  A  minister’s  daughter’s  no  different 
from  any  other  young  lady  who  tries  to  remember  that 
she  is  a  lady. 

John:  This  lady  stuff,  is  that  so  important? 

alma:  Not  to  the  sort  of  girls  that  you  may  be  used  to  bring¬ 
ing  to  Moon  Lake  Casino.  But  suppose  that  some 
day  .  .  .  ( She  crosses-out-of -the  arbor  and  faees-away- from 
hintr)  .  .  .  suppose  that  some  day  you — married  .  .  . 
the  woman  that  you  selected  to  be  your  wife,  and  not 
only  your  wife  but  .  .  .  the  mother  of  your  children! 
(She- catches  her  breath  at  the  thought. )  Wouldn’t  you  want 
that  woman  e©  be  a  lady?  Wouldn’t  you  want  her  to  be 
somebody  that  you,  as  her  husband,  and  they  as  her 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 


233 


precious  children' — could  look  up  to  with  very  deep 
respect?  {There  is  a  pa-user ) 

john:  There’s  other  things  between  a  man  and  a  woman 

besides  respect.  Did  you  know  that,  Miss  Alma? 
alma:  Yes.  ... 

john:  There’s  such  a  thing  as  intimate  relations. 

alma:  Thank  you  for  telling  me  that.  So  plainly. 
john:  It  may  strike  you  as  unpleasant.  But  it  does  have  a 

good  deal  to  do  with  .  .  .  connubial  felicity,  as  you’d 
call  it.  There  are  some  women  that  just  give  in  to  a 
man  as  a  sort  of  obligation  imposed  on  them  by  the 
...  cruelty  of  nature!  {He  finishes  his -glass  and  pours 
another-.-)  And  there  you  are. 
alma:  There  I  am? 
john:  I’m  speaking  generally. 

alma:  Oh. 

{Hoarse  shouts  go  up  from  the  eastnor) 
johnt  The  cockfighi  has  started! 

alma:  Since  you  have  spoken  so  plainly,  I’ll  speak  plainly, 
too.  There  are  some  women  who  turn  a  possibly  beau¬ 
tiful  thing  into  something  no  better  than  the  coupling 
of  beasts!  But  love  is  what  you  bring  to  it. 
john:  You’re  right  about  that. 

alma:  Some  people  bring  just  their  bodies.  But  there  are 

some  people,  there  are  some  women,  John  .  .  .  who  can 
bring  their  hearts  to  it,  also  .  .  .  who  can  bring  their 
souls  to  it! 

john:  (i derisively )  Souls  again,  huh?  Those  Gothic  cathedrals 

you  dream  of! 

{There  is-another  hoarse  prolonged  shout  from  the  Castnor) 

Your  name  is  Alma,  and  Alma  is  Spanish  for  soul. 
Some  time  I’d  like  to  show  you  a  chart  of  the  human 
anatomy  that  I  have  in  the  office.  It  shows  what  our 
insides  are  like,  and  maybe  you  can  show  me  where 


the  beautiful  soul  is  located  on  the  chart.  (He-drains  the 
mne  bottle. )  Let’s  go  watch  the  cockfight. 

alma:  No!  {There  is  a  pause.) 

John.  I  know  something  else  we  could  do.  There  are  rooms 
above  the  casino.  ... 

alma:  (herdsack.  stiffening)  I’d  heard  that  you  made  suggestions 
like  that  to  girls  that  you  go  out  with,  but  I  refused  to 
believe  such  stories  were  true.  What  made  you  think 
I  might  be  amenable  to  such  a  suggestion? 

John:  I  counted  your  pulse  in  the  office  the  night  you  ran  out 

because  you  weren’t  able  to  sleep. 

alma:  '  The  night  I  was  ill  and  went  to  your  father  for  help. 

John:  It  was  me  you  went  to. 

alma:  It  was  your  father,  and  you  wouldn’t  call  your  father. 

John:  Fingers  frozen  stiff  when  I — 

alma:  Oh!  I  want  to  go  home.  But  I  won’t  go  with  you.  I  will 
go  in  a  taxi!  (She  wheels  about  hysterically. )  Boy!  Boy!  Call 
a  taxi! 

john:  I’ll  call  one  for  you,;Miss  Alma  .  .  .  Taxi!  (He  goes  out 

of  the  arbor. ) 

alma:  (wildly )  You're  not  a  gentleman! 

John:  (from  the  darkness)  Taxi! 

alma:  You  ’ re  not  a  gentleman! 

(As  he  disappears  she  makes  a  sound  in  her  throat  like  a  hurt 
animal.  The  light  fades  out  of  the  arbor  and  comes  up  more 
distinctly  on  the  stone  angel  of  the  fountain-.  ) 

“In  a  way,  I  liked  this  reading  quite  well.  I  think  that  you  both 
had  a  feel  for  the  characters.  Joseph,  the  hedonism  that  you  had 
in  contrast  to  Anna’s  desperation  about  being  in  this  situation 
was  good.  The  things  that  were  missing  are  relatively  minor.  For 
example,  it  was  a  little  too  glib,  Joseph.  What  you  do,  you  do 
partially  to  arouse  her,  to  tempt  her  and  to  enjoy  her  shockability 
— which  she  responds  to.  Anna,  you  don’t  give  enough  time  in 
the  very  beginning,  when  you  almost  have  to  come  out  of  a  faint. 
But  essentially  the  spirit  here  was  correct.” 

Joseph  gives  Anna  a  quick  smile. 

“Now  I  have  taught  you — or  I  have  brought  out  of  both  of  you, 


FINAL  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH” 


235 


if  you  prefer — a  degree  of  reality  which  is  commendable.  Every 
moment  must  have  a  reason  for  being  there.  You  don’t  say  to  her, 
‘You  know,  they’ve  got  rooms  upstairs,’  without  knowing  damn 
well  what  it  means,  and  the  effect  it  will  have  on  her.  You  know 
the  effect,  but  you  want  to  witness  it.  In  a  way,  John  is  quite 
a  sadist.  You  need  to  give  her  time  to  recuperate  from  the  shock 
of  your  driving.  Usually  people  make  this  trip  from  town 
in  twenty-five  minutes,  and  you  made  it  in  ten!  But  that’s  sec¬ 
ondary.  You  got  the  devil-may-care  quality  of  this  man,  and 
that’s  what’s  important;  All  in  all,  the  general  picture  is  essen¬ 
tially  correct:  it’s  a  scene  between  a  carefree  guy  and  a  neu¬ 
rotic  woman.  But  the  details  are  still  not  sharp  enough,  and  you 
have  to  ask  yourself  what  they  mean,  to  you.  Do  you  under¬ 
stand?” 

“Yes,”  Joseph  says. 

“Anna,  this  girl  wants  so  many  of  the  things  that  are  associated 
with  life,  but  she  is  constantly  in  conflict  between  her  real  wishes 
and  her  upbringing.  I  think  that  she’s  perpetually — I  hate  to  use 
this  word — nostalgic  about  being  happy.  Do  you  understand?” 

“No,”  Anna  says. 

“If  she  looks  through  the  window  of  her  living  room  and  sees 
a  girl  and  a  fellow  walking  down  the  road  holding  hands,  it 
creates  a  great  poignancy  in  her.  You  follow?  She’s  deprived  of 
life.  She’s  afraid  of  life,  but  the  deprivation  hurts  her  just  the 
same.  That  he  brings  her  here  to  the  casino,  that  he  suggests  that 
they  go  upstairs — everything  he  does  is  against  her  education. 
The  point  is  she  wants  to,  but  she’s  afraid.  It’s  tragic.” 

Anna  nods  and  Meisner  turns  to  Joseph  again. 

‘That  was  all  right.  The  liveliness  of  it,  the  ready  acceptance 
of  the  facts  of  life — girls,  cockfights  and  so  on.  It  was  much  more 
relaxed  emotionally,  Joseph.  You  know,  you’re  a  different  kind 
of  actor  now  than  you  were  six  months  ago.” 

“Am  I?  I  don’t  know.” 

“You’re  freer.” 

Joseph  laughs.  “I  hope  so.  I  mean,  that’s  what  I’m  working 
for.” 

“Emotionally  freer,  yet  you  still  don’t  know  why  you  say  what 
you  say  at  each  moment.  You  should  have  both.” 


“Yes,  I  know.  There  were  some  moments  I  was  able  to  work 
on.  In  others  the  realization  isn’t  there  yet.” 

“So  do  it  again.” 


November  15 

Joseph  places  two  metal  chairs  together  to  form  a  bench  on  the 
right  side  of  the  acting  area;  then  he  and  Anna,  closing  the  door 
behind  them,  leave  to  prepare  for  the  scene. 

“The  amplifier’s  not  on,  is  it?”  Meisner  asks. 

“No,”  several  voices  reply. 

“But  you  can  hear  me  anyway?” 

“Yes.” 

“Cancer  is  a  great  thing.” 

“Did  you  say,  ‘Cancer  is  a  great  thing’?”  Ray  asks.  “Why  is 
that?” 

“I  can  talk  and  I  have  no  larynx,”  Meisner  says,  and  the  class 
laughs  uneasily.  “You  don’t  see,  the  humor  in  it?” 

“I  see  the  humor,”  Ray  says,  “but  I  missed  the  word  ‘black.’  ” 

In  a  few  moments  the  door  opens,  Joseph  and  Anna  enter,  and 
the  scene  begins.  “I  don’t  see  why  we  can’t  go  into  the  casino,” 
Joseph  says  with  a  genial  chuckle  as  if  to  say  it  would  be  fun,  but 
that  it’s  not  important.  “You  do  understand  .  .  .  you’re  just  pre¬ 
tending  not.ro,”  Anna  says  in  a  low,  tense,  breathy  voice  as  if  it 
were  difficult  for  her  to  inhale  this  air.  Her  shoulders  are 
wrapped  in  a  white  cotton  shawl  held  tightly  around  her  body 
more  for  protection  than  for  warmth.  She  clutches  a  black  leather 
handbag  in  her  right  hand. 

“Give  me  one  reason,”  Joseph  says  affably.  “I’m  a  minister’s 
daughter,”  Anna  says  softly,  almost  as  if  she  were  ashamed  of  the 
fact.  “That’s  no  reason,”  he  says.  “You’re  a  doctor,  ”  Anna  says 
proudly,  “that’s  an  even  better  reason.  You  can  afford  to  be  seen 
in  such  places  even  less  than  I  can!”  She  gulps  a  large  breath, 
crosses  to  the  bench,  sits,  opens  the  handbag  and  reaches  into  it. 

Their  ensuing  clash  over  the  pills  is  surprisingly  violent— her 
desperation  is  as  strong  as  his  concern — and  his  reading  of  the 
line  “You  want  to  turn  into  a  dope-fiend  taking  this  stuff?”  sug- 


FINAL  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 


237 


gests  that  he  really  cares  for  her.  The  tremulous,  breathy  prepa¬ 
ration  Anna  entered  with  justifies  perfectly  his  line  “Sit  down 
and  stop  swallowing  air.” 

The  shift  in  the  conversation  to  the  subject  of  the  cockfight 
now  becomes  John’s  way  of  covering  up  his  concern  for  Alma. 
Again  his  tone  becomes  light,  slightly  mocking,  suggesting  a 
carefree  quality.  This  mood  continues  into  the  discussion  of  his 
proposed  flight  to  South  America,  For  Alma  the  questions  she 
asks  suggest  both  her  hunger  for  the  least  bit  of  information 
about  him  and  her  irrational  fear  of  anything  foreign. 

John’s  line  defending  the  sensual  life — he  whispers  the  final 
word,  “satisfaction,”  seductively — prompts  Alma  to  defend  her¬ 
self  with  the  lyric  speech  about  Gothic  cathedrals.  At  the  end,  the 
placing  of  her  gloved  hand  on  his  seems,  accidental  until,  chal¬ 
lenged,  she  says  in  a  low  voice  with  a  false  air  of  casualness, 
“That’s  easily  remedied.  I’ll  just  take  the  gloves  off,”  and  her  need 
for  physical  contact  with  him  is  painfully  evident. 

John’s  rejection  of  Alma  prompts  the  discussion  about  the 
desert,  the  “wide,  wide  stretches  of  uninhabitable  ground,” 
which  she  feels  separate  her  from  others.  Perhaps  it’s  his  guilt, 
perhaps  his  returning  concern,  but  the  questions  John  asks  are 
posed  delicately,  with  care,  as  a  psychiatrist  might  treat  an  espe¬ 
cially  troubled  patient,  until,  with  moving  tenderness,  he  kisses 
her.  With  tears  in  her  eyes  she  hesitates,  and  these  two  touching 
and  very  human  characters  play  out  the  rest  of  the  scene,  moment 
by  moment,  to  its  unsettling  conclusion. 

“Is  that  the  end?”  Meisner  says  after  Alma’s  second  “You’re 
not  a  gentleman!” 

Anna  nods  and  Joseph,  who  has  left  the  room,  returns. 

“Sit  down.  That  was  good.  I  was  thinking.  There’s  a  scene  at 
the  end  of  the  play  where  she  is  desperate  with  loneliness  and 
unhappiness,  and  is  finally  determined  to  go  to  him  and  propose 
that  they  live  together.  Do  you  know  the  scene?” 

“Is  it  in  my  office?”  Joseph  asks. 

“Yes.  Then  finally  you  have  to  tell  her  the  truth.  She  comes  in  be¬ 
cause  she  can’t  stand  it  anymore,  and  she  finds  out  that  you’re  mar¬ 
ried.  So  in  her  pain,  after  she  leaves — it’s  very  moving — she  goes 
out  and  picks  up  a  guy  on  the  street,  a  traveling  salesman.  It’s  sad, 


238 


Joseph.  You  can  do  nothing  for  her,  even  though  you  like  her.” 
“Yeah.” 

“It  might  have  been.  It  might  have  been.  There’s  something 
heartbreaking  in  that.  And  she  makes  one  last  desperate  effort  to 
see  that  tragedy  doesn’t  happen  to  her.  Read  it.  If  you  don’t  like 
it,  do  something  else.  If  you  like  it,  do  it.  Okay?” 

“Okay,”  Joseph  says. 

“He’s  not  cruel,  as  you’ll  see.  He’s  a  healthy  man,  and  she,” 
Meisner  says,  looking  at  Anna,  who  is  radiant  from  the  pleasure 
of  having  acted  well,  “is  a  pathetic  old  maid.” 

Anna  laughs  easily. 

“Typecasting,”  Meisner  says,  and  the  class  laughs.  “You  want 
to  try  it?” 

“Yeah,”  Joseph  says. 

“Sure,”  Anna  says,  taking  a  deep  breath  and  then  letting  it  out 
slowly. 

November  19  , 

Summer  and  Smoke 
part  2,  scene  11 

...  In  John’r  office  .  .  .  John  is  seated  at  a  white  enameled  table 
examining  a  slide  through  a  microscope. 

(A  bell  tolls  the  hour  of  five  as  Alma  comes  hesitantly  in.  .  .  .) 

alma:  No  greetings?  No  greetings  at  all? 
john:  Hello,  Miss  Alma. 

alma:  (. speaking  with  animatim-to  control  her  panic)  How  white 
it  is  here,  such  glacial  brilliance!  (She  covers  her  eyes ; 
laughing. ) 

john:  New  equipment. 

alma:  Everything  new  but  the  chart. 


FINAL.  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH"  '  239 

john:  The  human  anatomy’s  always  the  same  old  thing. 

alma:  And  such  a  tiresome  one!  I’ve  been  plagued  with  sore 
throats. 

john:  Everyone  has  lately.  These  Southern  homes  are  all  im¬ 
properly  heated.  Open  grates  aren’t  enough. 

alma:  They  burn  the  front  of  you  while  your  back  is  freez- 
ing! 

john:  Then  you  go  into  another  room  and  get  chilled  off. 

alma:  Yes,  yes,  chilled  to  the  bone. 

john:  But  it  never  gets  quite  cold  enough  to  convince  the 
damn  fools  that  a  furnace  is  necessary,  so  they  go  on 
building  without  them. 


alma:  Such  a  strange  afternoon. 
john:  Is  it?  I  haven’t  been  out. 

alma:  The  Gulf  wind  is  blowing  big,  white — what  do  they 
call  them?  cumulus? — clouds  over!  Ha-ha!  It  seemed 
determined  to  take  the  plume  off  my  hat,  like  that  fox 
terrier  we  had  once  named  Jacob,  snatched  the  plume 
off  a  hat  and  dashed  around  and  around  the  back  yard 
with  it  like  a  trophy! 

john:  I  remember  Jacob.  What  happened  to  him? 
alma:  Oh,  Jacob.  Jacob  was  such  a  mischievous  thief.  We  had 
to  send  him  out  to  some  friends  in  the  country.  Yes,  he 
ended  his  days  as  ...  a  country  squire!  The  tales  of  his 
exploits  ... 

john:  Sit  down,  Miss  Alma. 
alma:  If  I’m  not  disturbing  you  .  .  .  ? 

john:  No — I  called  the  Rectory  when  I  heard  you  were  sick. 

Your  father  told  me  you  wouldn’t  see  a  doctor. 
alma:  I  needed  a  rest,  that  was  all ...  You  were  out  of  town, 
mostly.  ... 

john:  I  was  mostly  in  Lyon,  finishing  up  Dad’s  work  in  the 
fever  clinic. 

alma:  Covering  yourself  with  sudden  glory! 
john:  Redeeming  myself  with  good  works. 


alma:  It’s  rather  late  to  tell  you  how  happy  I  am,  and  also  how 
proud.  I  almost  feel  as  your  father  might  have  felt — if 
.  .  .  And — are  you — happy  now,  John? 

John:  (< uncomfortably ,  not  looking  at  her)  I’ve  settled  with  life  on 
fairly  acceptable  terms.  Isn’t  that  all  a  reasonable  per¬ 
son  can  ask  for? 

alma:  He  can  ask  for  much  more  than  that.  He  can  ask  for  the 
coming  true  of  his  most  improbable  dreams. 

John:  It’s  best  not  to  ask  for  too  much. 

alma:  I  disagree  with  you.  I  say,  ask  for  all,  but  be  prepared 
to  get  nothing!  ( Sbesprmgs-up  and  crosses  to  tbe-windew. 
Sbe-eontinues. )  No,  I  haven’t  been  well.  I’ve  thought 
many  times  of  something  you  told  me  last  summer,  that 
I  have  a  doppelganger.  I  looked  that  up  and  I  found  that 
it  means  another  person  inside  me,  another  self,  and  I 
don’t  know  whether  to  thank  you  or  not  for  making  me 
conscious  of  it!  ...  I  haven’t  been  well.  .  .  .  For  a  while 
I  thought  I  was  dying,  that  that  was  the  change  that 
was  coming. 

john:  When  did  you  have  that  feeling? 

alma:  August.  September.  But  now  the  Gulf  wind  has  blown 
that  feeling  away  like  a  cloud  of  smoke,  and  I  know 
now  I’m  not  dying,  that  it  isn’t  going  to  turn  out  to  be 
that  simple.  ... 

john:  Have  you  been  anxious  about  your  heart  again?  (He. 
repeats  to  a  professional  manner -and  takes  out  a  silver  watch, 
'putting  bis  fingers  on  her  wrist.) 

alma:  And  now  the  stethoscope?  (He  removes  the  stethoscope  from 
the  table  and  starts  to  loosen  her  jacket.  She  looks  down  at 
his  bent  head.  Slowly,  involuntarily,  her  gloved  hands  lift 
and  descend  on  the  crown  of  his  head.  He  gets  up  awkward¬ 
ly.  She  suddenly  leans  toward  him  and  presses  her  mouth  to 
his.) 

Why  don’t  you  say  something?  Has  the  cat  got  your 
tongue?,  •  . 

john:  Miss  Alma,  what  can  I  say? 

alma:  You’ve  gone  back  to  calling  me  “Miss  Alma”  again. 

john:  We’ve  never  really  got  past  that  point  with  each  other. 


p- FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH"  241 

alma:  Oh,  yes,  we  did.  We  were  so  dose  that  we  almost 
breathed  together! 

John:  (witb-embarrassment).  I  didn’t  know  that. 
alma:  No?  Well,  I  did,  I  knew  it.  (Her  band  touches  his- face 
tenderly. )  You  shave  more  carefully  now?  You  don’t 
have  those  little  razor  cuts  on  your  chin  that  you  dusted 
with  gardenia  talcum  ... 

JOHN:  I  shave  more  carefully  now. 

alma:  So  that  explains  it!  {Her  fngers. remain  on-his  face,-  moving 
gently  up-and-down  it  like  a-hlind- person-reading- Braille-.-  He 
is- intensely- -embarrassed  and-gently- -removes  -her-  hands-from 
himr)  Is  it  .  .  .  impossible  now? 
john:  I  don’t  think  I  know  what  you  mean. 
alma:  You  know  what  I  mean,  all  right!  So  be  honest  with  me. 
One  time  I  said  “no”  to  something.  You  may  remember 
the  time,  and  all  that  demented  howling  from  the 
cockfight?  But  now  I  have  changed  my  mind,  or  the  girl 
who  said  “no,”  she  doesn’t  exist  any  more,  she  died  last 
summer— suffocated  in  smoke  from  something  on  fire 
inside  her.  No,  she  doesn’t  live  now,  but  she  left  me  her 
ring  ...  You  see?  This  one  you  admired,  the  topaz  ring 
set  in  pearls.  .  .  .  And  she  said  to  me  when  she  slipped 
this  right  on  my  finger — “Remember  I  died  empty- 
handed,  and  so  make  sure  that  your  hands  have  some¬ 
thing  in  them!"  (She  drops  her  gloves.  She  clasps  his  head-agatn 
in  her  hands.  )  I  said,  “But  what  about  pride?”  .  .  .  She 
said,  “Forget  about  pride,  whenever  it  stands  between 
you  and  what  you  must  have!”  (He-  takes  hold  of  her  wrists. ) 
And  then  I  said,  “But  what  if  he  doesn’t  want  me?”  I 
don’t  know  what  she  said  then.  I’m  not  sure  whether 
she  said  anything  or  not — her  lips  stopped  moving — 
yes,  I  think  she  stopped  breathing!  (He- gently  removes  her 
craving  hands  from  his  face. )  No?  (He-shakes  his  head  in  dumb 
suffering. )  Then  the  answer  is  “no”! 
john:  (forcing  himself  to  speak).  I  have  a  respect  for  the  truth, 
and  I  have  a  respect  for  you — so  I’d  better  speak  hon¬ 
estly  if  you  want  me  to  speak.  (Alma  nods  slight 
lyh)  You’ve  won  the  argument  that  we  had  between  us. 


242 


alma:  What  .  .  .  argument? 
john:  The  one  about  the  chart. 
alma:  Oh — the  chart! 

(She  turns  from  him  and— wanders  across  to  the- chart.  She- gazes 
tip— at-  it  with  closed  eyes , — and  her  hands  -clasped— in  front  of 

herr) 

john:  It  shows  that  we’re  not  a  package  of  rose  leaves,  that 
every  interior  inch  of  us  is  taken  up  with  something 
ugly  and  functional  and  no  room  seems  to  be  left  for 
anything  else  in  there. 
alma:  No.  ... 

john:  But  I’ve  come  around  to  your  way  of  thinking,  that 
something  else  is  in  there,  an  immaterial  something — 
as  thin  as  smoke — which  all  of  those  ugly  machines 
combine  to  produce  and  that’s  their  whole  reason  for 
being.  It  can’t  be  seen  so  it  can’t  be  shown  on  the  chart. 
But  it’s  there,  just  the  same,  and  knowing  it’s  there — 
why,  then  the  whole  thing — this — this  unfathomable 
experience  of  ours — takes  on  a  new  value,  like  some 
.  .  .  some  wildly  romantic  work  in  a  laboratory!  Don’t 
you  see? 

(The  wind  comes  up  very- loud ,  almost- -like  a  choir  of  voices.  Both  of 
them  turn- slightly ,  Alma  raising  a  hand  to  her  plumed  head  as  if  she 
were  outdoors. ) 

alma:  Yes,  I  see!  Now  that  you  no  longer  want  it  to  be  other¬ 
wise,  you’re  willing  to  believe  that  a  spiritual  bond  can 
exist  between  us  two! 

john:  Can’t  you  believe  that  l  am  sincere  about  it? 
alma:  Maybe  you  are.  But  I  don’t  want  to  be  talked  to  like 
some  incurably  sick  patient  you  have  to  comfort. 
{A  harsh  and  strong  note  comes  into  her  v&ice. )  Oh,  I  suppose 
I  am  sick,  one  of  those  weak  and  divided  people  who 
slip  like  shadows  among  you  solid  strong  ones.  But 
sometimes,  out  of  necessity,  we  shadowy  people  take 


243 


FINAL  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH” 


on  a  strength  of  our  own.  I  have  that  now.  You  needn’t 
try  to  deceive  me. 
john:  I  wasn’t. 

alma:  You  needn’t  try  to  comfort  me.  I  haven’t  come  here  on 
any  but  equal  terms.  You  said,  let’s  talk  truthfully.  Well, 
let’s  do!  Unsparingly,  truthfully,  even  shamelessly, 
then!  It’s  no  longer  a  secret  that  I  love  you.  It  never  was. 

I  loved  you  as  long  ago  as  the  time  I  asked  you  to  read  the 
stone  angel’s  name  with  your  fingers.  Yes,  I  remember 
the  long  afternoons  of  our  childhood,  when  I  had  to  stay 
indoors  to  practice  my  music — and  I  heard  your  play¬ 
mates  calling  you,  “Johnny,  Johnny!”  How  it  went 
through  me,  just  to  hear  your  name  called!  And  how  I — 
rushed  to  the  window  to  watch  you  jump  the  porch 
railing!  I  stood  at  a  distance,  halfway  down  the  block, 
only  to  keep  in  sight  of  your  torn  red  sweater,  racing 
about  the  vacant  lot  you  played  in.  Yes,  it  had  begun  that 
early,  this  affliction  of  love,  and  has  never  let  go  of  me 
since,  but  kept  on  growing.  I’ve  lived  next  door  to  you 
all  the  days  of  my  life,  a  weak  and  divided  person  who 
stood,  in  adoring  awe  of  your  singleness,  of  your 
strength.  And  that  is  my  story!  Now  I  wish  you  would 
tell  me — why  didn’t  it  happen  between  us?  Why  did  I 
fail?  Why  did  you  come  almost  close  enough— and  no 
closer? 

john:  Whenever  we’ve  gotten  together,  the  three  or  four 
times  that  we  have  .  .  . 
alma:  As  few  as  that? 

john:  It’s  only  been  three  or  four  times  that  we’ve  .  .  .  come 
face  to  face.  And  each  of  those  times — we  seemed  to  be 
trying  to  find  something  in  each  other  without  know¬ 
ing  what  it  was  that  we  wanted  to  find.  It  wasn  t  a  body 
hunger,  although  ...  I  acted  as  if  I  thought  it  might  be 
the  night  I  wasn’t  a  gentleman— at  the  casino — it 
wasn’t  the  physical  you  that  I  really  wanted! 
alma:  I  know,  you’ve  already— 


JOHN:  You  didn’t  have  that  to  give  me. 
alma:  Not  at  that  time. 
john:  You  had  something  else  to  give. 
alma:  What  did  I  have?  ' 

(Jekn  strikes  a  match.  Unconsciously -he  holds  his  curved-palm  over  the 
flame  of  the  match  to  warm  it.  It  is-a-long  kite-hen  match  and  it- makes 
a-good flame-.  They  both  stare  a-t-it  with-a  sorrowful  understanding  that 
ts  still  perplexed,  It-is  about  to-bam  ha- fingers.  She  leans  forward  and 
Males  it  out;  then  she  puts  on  her  gloves.)  > 

john:  You  couldn’t  name  it  and  I  couldn’t  recognize  it.  I 
;  thought  it  was  just  a  Puritanical  ice  that  glittered  like 

flanie.  But  now  I  believe  it  was  flame,  mistaken  for  ice. 
I  still  don’t  understand  it,  but  I  know  it  was  there,  just 
as  I  know  that  your  eyes  and  your  voice  are  the  two 
most  beautiful  things  I’ve  ever  known — and  also  the 
warmest,  although  they  don’t  seem  to  be  set  in  your 
body  at  all.  ... 

alma:  You  talk  as  if  my  body  had  ceased  to  exist  for  you, 
John,  in  spite  of  the  fact  that  you’ve  just  counted  my 
pulse.  Yes,  that’s  it!  You  tried  to  avoid  it,  but  you’ve 
told  me  plainly.  The  tables  have  turned,  yes,  the 
tables  have  turned  with  a  vengeance!  You’ve  come 
around  to  my  old  way  of  thinking  and  I  to  yours,  like 
two  people  exchanging  a  call  on  each  other  at  the 
same  time,  and  each  one  finding  the  other  one  gone 
out,  the  door  locked  against  him  and  no  one  to  answer 
the  bell!  (She  laughs. )  I  came  here  to  tell  you  that  being 
a  gentleman  doesn’t  seem  so  important  to  me  any 
more,  but  you’re  telling  me  I’ve  got  to  remain  a  lady. 
(She-laughs father  violently-. )  The  tables  have  turned  with 
a  vengeance!  .  .  .  The  air  here  smells  of  ether — It’s 
making  me  dizzy  ... 

John:  I’ll  open  a  window. 
alma:  Please. 
john:  There,  now. 

alma:  Thank  you,  that’s  better.  Do  you  remember  those  little 


FINAL  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH”  24  5 

white  tablets  you  gave  me?  I’ve  used  them  all  up  and 
I’d  like  to  have  some  more. 

john:  I’ll  write  the” prescription  for  you.  (He  bends  to  write.) 

Joseph  and  Anna  read.  She  is  deeply  prepared,  weeping  openly 
at  the  beginning  and  throughout  the  scene.  It  is  a  moving  per¬ 
formance.  Joseph  is  stiff  and  uncommitted  emotionally  to  the 
material;  yet  it  is  obvious,  that  his  performance  has  great  poten¬ 
tial. 

“What’s  this  scene  about,  Joseph?” 

“I’m  in  my  office  and  she  comes  in  to  tell  me  that  she’s  changed 
her  mind  about  being  a  lady,  that  she  really  wants  to  go  to  bed 
with  me,  and  I’m  telling  her  that  the  human  soul  does  exist  and 
that  there’s  more  to  life  than  our  physical  desires.” 

“How  do  you  feel  about  her?” 

“I  feel  sorry  for  her.” 

“Is  it  a  painful  scene?” 

“Not  really,  from  the  point  of  view  of  John.  It  hasn’t  reached 
that  point  yet.  I  mean,  it’s  hard — but  I  haven’t  really  broken  its 
back  yet.” 

“Knowing  how  you  feel  about  her  and  that  you  are  going  to 
marry  someone  else,  emotionally  aren’t  you  really  on  her  level?” 

“Not  really,  no.  There’s  a  tremendous  remorse  and  sadness  on 
John’s  part,  but  as  far  as  what  she’s  bringing  to  the  work — the 
crying  and  so  forth — that’s  not  the  meaning  of  it  for  me.” 

“That’s  not  the  meaning  of  it  for  you?” 

“No,  but  it’s  very  touching.  What  almost  was  but  never  was. 
What  almost  happened  but  never  was.” 

“When  are  you  going  to  cope  with  that?” 

“When  am  I?  I  don’t  know,”  Joseph  says  and  then  pauses.  “I 
have  to  be  honest  with  you.  I  have  a  hard  time  working  off  her 
behavior  when  she’s  crying  like  that.” 

“Wait  a  minute,”  Meisner  says.  “This  is  a  classroom.” 

“I  understand  that.” 

“And  anything  can  happen  in  it  which  might  not  happen  if 
you  were  really  onstage.” 

“You  mean  I  should  treat  it  more  as  if  it’s  an  exercise.” 


246 

“That’s  right.” 

“I  understand  that,  but  if  I  were  really  to  work  off  her  behavior, 
mine  would  be  different.  It  would  be  opposed  to  what  I  believe 
the  scene  is  about.  There’s  a  lot  of  pain  in  what  I  have  to  admit 
to  her — that  I’m  engaged — and  if  she  comes  in  crying,  my  initial 
impulse  is  to  put  my  arms  around  her.” 

“But  if  you  hold  back  and  just  have  it  without  actually  doing 
anything  about  it,  wouldn’t  it  be  helpful  to  you  as  an  actor? 

“It  would  do  something  to  me,  yes.” 

“That’s  what  I’m  looking  for.” 

“Okay.” 

“She’s  doing  what  I  told  her  to,  right?” 

“I  don’t  remember.  Okay.” 

“She’s  doing  what  I  told  her  to.  I  say  you  should  allow  the 
sensitive  human  being  you  are  to  respond  to  that. 

“Okay.” 

“To  throw  out  an  example,  if  your  best  friend  were  in  a  terri¬ 
ble  accident  and  you  had  to  console  his  mother,  who  is  destroyed, 
you’d  be  destroyed  too,  but  something  in  you  would  say,  I  must 
try  to  be  strong!’  Don’t  you  see?” 

“Sure.”  . 

“From  the  point  of  view  of  treating  this  as  an  exercise,  she  s 
like  the  destroyed  mother,  and  you,  emotionally,  are  not  far  from 
where  she  is,  but  you  can't  let  it  out!  Does  that  mean  something 
to  you?” 

“Yes.” 

“It’s  as  if  you  know  why  she’s  coming  over  to  see  you,  and  it 
annihilates  you,  but  you' have  to  contain  yourself.  Do  you  agree? 

“Sure.” 

“I  don’t  want  you  to  play  this  scene  as  it  theoretically  should  be 
played.  This  is  a  device  which  will  stimulate  you  emotionally. 
You  know  why  she’s  coming  over,  and  it  does  almost  to  you  what 
it  does  to  her,  but  whereas  she  lets  it  out,  you  try  to  contain  it. 
The  point  is  not  to  play  the  scene.  The  point  is  to  use  it  as  an 
exercise  for  a  purpose.  You  understand?” 

“I  do.”  ■  -. 

“We  are  actors.  We  have  more  than  one  color  in  our  personali- 


247 


FINAL  SCENES:  "INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH" 

ties.  You  can  laugh,  cry,  be  sarcastic,  be  desperate — whatever. 
This  is  a  classroom.  Maybe  you  can’t  play  the  scene  the  way  she 
did,  but  it  has  a  value  to  her  as  an  actor.  You’re  permitting 
yourself  to  be  a  little  too  self-watchful.  That’s  not  the  proper 
benefit  to  get  from  a  class.  You  understand?” 

“Yes.” 

“The  difference  between  last  class’s  reading  and  today’s  is 
enormous.  What  difference  does  it  make  if  it’s  not  quite  right  for 
the  scene?  A  prizefighter  with  a  rubber  ball  keeps  squeezing  it  all 
the  time,  but  he  doesn’t  fight  that  way!  It’s  to  strengthen  his 
muscles.  Have  I  made  myself  clear?” 

“Yes,”  Anna  says. 

“You  can  say  to  a  pianist,  ‘That  was  all  off  when  it  came  to 
interpreting  the  piece,  but  you  had  good  octaves.’  Well,  gradually 
it  all  comes  together.  Am  I  making  myself  clear?” 

“Yes,”  Joseph  says. 

“Okay.  Feel  free — without  the  book — to  let  it  come  out  almost 
improvisationally.  Do  anything  that  will  achieve  your  emotional 
freedom.” 


November  29 

Joseph  and  Anna  sit  at  the  gray  table.  She  is  in  the  upstage 
position;  he  sits  to  the  side  giving  prominence  to  her.  The  read¬ 
ing  is  quiet,  yet  full  of  exquisite  emotion.  There  is  a  sense  of 
concentration,  of  controlled  direction  to  the  scene.  The  acting  is 
compelling.  The  observers  forget  the  hardness  of  the  metal  fold¬ 
ing  chairs  and  the  lateness  of  the  hour.  Anna  is  more  subdued 
now  than  last  week;  the  emotion  is  more  controlled,  bursting 
forth  only  toward  the  end  of  the  scene.  Joseph  is  quieter,  more 
sober  and  reflective,  feeling  more  deeply. 

“It’s  coming  along  well,”  Meisner  says. 

“Next  time  should  we  try  to  incorporate  some  of  the  things 
that  are  suggested,  like  his  taking  my  pulse?”  Anna  asks. 

Meisner  nods.  “The  guilty  doctor.  Start  learning  it  now.” 

“Okay,”  Joseph  says. 


248  : 

“Would  you  believe  that  a  playwright  who  wrote  such  a  lovely, 
lyric  play  as  this  would  wind  up  the  way  he  did?.  Well,  that’s  life! 
But, the  delicacy  of  this  is  something  I’m  going  to  talk  about,  and 
...  Well,  we’ll  see.” 


December  6 

Joseph  sits  at  the  gray  table  writing  in  a  notebook.  After  a  few 
minutes  Anna  enters.  “No  greetings?”  she  says.  “No  greetings  at 
all?”  The  scene  begins.  Joseph  is  gentle,  his  deep  voice  soothing 
and  caring.  Anna  seems  serious  and  utterly  desperate.  On  the 
line  “I  know  now  I’m  not  dying,  that  it  isn’t  going  to  turn  out 
to  be  that  simple,”  she  begins  to  weep.  The  effect  is  heartbreak¬ 
ing. 

“Is  it  .  .  .  impossible  now?”  she  asks  softly.  And  in  the  great 
speech  that  follows,  the  “topaz  ring”  speech  in  which  she  an¬ 
nounces  the  death  of  her  prideful  former  self,  her  voice  builds  in 
emotional  intensity  to  the  terrible  conclusion,  “No?  Then  the 
answer  is ‘no!’ ” 

Joseph’s  response,  that  he  knows  now  that  “an  immaterial 
something  does  exist  in  the  body,  is  said  straightforwardly,  as  if 
it  were  a  simple  truth.  But  she  cannot  be  placated.  “You  needn’t 
try  to  comfort  me,”  she  exclaims,  and  then  proceeds  to  the  most 
painful  moment  of  the  scene.  “It’s  no  longer  a  secret  that  I  love 
you.  It  never  was.”  Then  come  the  terrible  “why”  questions 
which  end  the  speech:  “Why  didn’t  it  happen  between  us?  Why 
did  I  fail?  Why  did  you  come  almost  close  enough— and  no 
closer?”  '  '  , 

The  acting  of  both  students  is  full,  clear,  intelligent,  simple  and 
deeply  felt,  something  like  great  music.  On  the  one  hand,  it  seems 
effortless;  on  the  other,  it.  is  emotionally  devastating,  as  if  a  great 
tragedy  has  just  occurred.  This  is  underscored  with  irony  at  the 
end  of  the  scene.  “The  tables  have  turned  with  a  vengeance!” 
Knowing  that  she  has  lost,  Alma  retreats  with  the  almost  casual, 
“Do  you  remember  those  little  white  tablets  you  gave  me?  I’ve 
used  them  all  up  and  I’d  like  to  have  some  more.”  “I’ll  write  the 
prescription  for  you,”  Joseph  says,  and  the  scene  ends. 


FINAL  SCENES:  “INSTEAD  OF  MERELY  THE  TRUTH” 


249 


“Is  that  where  you  end  it?”  Meisner  asks.  “It’s  coming  very, 
very  well.” 

“Thank  you,”  Joseph  says. 

“When  it’s  all  finished  I’ll  have  a  few  technical  things  to  say, 
but  do  you  want  to  go  on  with  it?” 

They  nod. 


December  13 

Joseph  and  Anna  perform  for  the  last  time  their  scene  from 
Summer  and  Smoke.  It  is  well  done,  but  her  preparation  is  less  full 
than  the  time  before  and  the  result  is  less  heart-wrenching.  Jo¬ 
seph  has  clarified  his  character  and  his  feelings  toward  Anna,  and 
his  performance  is  complex  and  touching. 

Thete  is  a  long  pause  after  the  end  of  the  scene.  “Did  you  learn 
something  from  this?”  Meisner  asks  finally. 

“I  think  so,”  Joseph  says. 

“You  don’t  want  to  do  it  anymore?” 

“In  one  sense  I  would,  yes,  because  I  think  it  was  better  last 
time.  We  picked  up  the  moments  off  each  other” — he  snaps  his 
fingers  cleanly  three  times — “better.” 

“Yes,  last  time  was  better.” 

“It  was  fuller  emotionally,”  Joseph  says. 

“It’s  an  anticlimax,”  Anna  says. 

“What?”  Meisner  asks. 

“It  feels — I  don’t  know — unsatisfying.” 

“That’s  life,”  Meisner  says,  and  the  class  laughs. 

“Sometimes  you  have  it  and  sometimes  you  don’t,”  Joseph 
says. 

“That’s  right.  I  wonder  why  it  was  better  last  time.  Don’t 
guess.  We  don’t  know.  It’s  such  a  subtle  question.”  Meisner 
pauses.  “There’s  a  scene  in  O’Neill’s  Mourning  Becomes  Electra, 
which  starts  out  with  the  son  talking  to  the  murdered  father 
who’s  in  his  coffin,  and  the  sister  catches  him  doing  it.  It  couldn’t 
be  more  different  than  this.  Why  don’t  you  try  it  next  time?” 

“Okay,”  Joseph  says. 

“No  more  John  and  Alma?”  Anna  asks.  “They’ve  bit  the  dust?” 


She  seems  sad,  as  if  she  were  parting  from  someone  precious  to  her. 
“For  now,”  Meisner  says,  and  the  class  ends. 

II 

“It’s  time  to  say  good-bye,”  Meisner  says  on  the  final  day  of  class. 

“First  of  all,  jemember  that  you’re  all  young  actors,  and  that 
sometimes  the  material  you  have  been  asked  to  act  here  was 
beyond  you.  More  often,  it  was  quite  within  your  scope — most 
of  it  was.  When  that  happened,  you  executed  it  well.  It’s  when 
the  emotional  problems  were  deeper  than  you  were  prepared  by 
life  to  realize  that  you  were  deficient.  But  that’s  not  important, 
you  know;  time  will  fix  that.” 

Ray  Stanton  now  sits  in  the  seat  Scott  Roberts  once  occupied. 
He  turns  up  the  volume  on  the  machine  that  amplifies  Meisner’s 
voice. 

“It’s  very  easy  to  give  advice,  so  now  I’m  going  to  tell  you 
something  that’s  impossible.  Keep  working  all  the  time;  do  all 
kinds  of  plays,  whether  they’re  right  for  you  or  not,  because 
eventually  time  and  you  will  catch  up  with  each  other.  One  other 
thing:  hold  on  to  the  foundation  of  your  technique.  It’s  solid.  ” 
Meisner  stands  and  holds  up  his  right  hand  in  a  kind  of  salute. 
“Good-bye!  I’ll  see  you  one  of  these  days!”  he  says,  and  the  stu¬ 
dents  stand  too,  and  applaud. 


Acknowledgments 


Basic  Books,  Inc.,  and  Unwin  Hyman,  Ltd.:  Excerpt  from  Sig¬ 
mund  Freud’s  essay  “The  Relation  of  the  Poet  to  Daydreaming,” 
published  in  Collected  Papers ,  Vol.  4,  by  Sigmund  Freud,  author¬ 
ized  translation  under  the  supervision  of  Joan  Riviere.  Published 
by  Basic  Books,  Inc.,  by  arrangement  with  The  Hogarth  Press, 
Ltd.,  and  the  Institute  of  Psychoanalysis,  London.  Also  pub¬ 
lished  in  Complete  Introductory  Lectures  on  Psychoanalysis  by  Sig¬ 
mund  Freud,  published  by  Unwin  Hyman,  Ltd.  Reprinted  by 
permission  of  the  publishers. 


Davis  /Cohen  Associates:  A  scene  from  The  Seagull  by  Anton 
Chekhov,  translated  by  Jean-Claude  Van  Italie.  Copyright  © 
1974,  1977  by  Jean-Claude  Van  Italie.  First  published  by  Harper 
&  Row  Publishers,  Inc.  Reprinted  by  permission  of  the  author. 

Grove  Press,  Inc.,  and  Brandt  &  Brandt  Literary  Agents,  Inc.:  A 
scene  from  Golden  Boy  by  Clifford  Odets.  Copyright  1937  by 
Clifford  Odets.  Copyright  renewed  1965  by  Nora  Odets  and  Walt 
Whitman  Odets.  Reprinted  by  permission  of  Grove  Press,  Inc., 
and  Brandt  &  Brandt  Literary  Agents,  Inc. 

Liveright  Publishing  Corporation  and  Chatto  &  Windus/The 
Hogarth  Press:  An  excerpt  from  Sigmund  Freud’s  essay  “A  Gen- 


eral  Introduction  to  Psychoanalysis,”  from  A  General  Introduction 
to  Psychoanalysis,  translated  by  Joan  Riviere.  Copyright  1920  by 
Edward  L.  Bernays.  Copyright  renewed  1963  by  Joan  Riviere. 
Copyright  ©  1968  by  Liveright  Publishing  Corporation.  Also 
published  in  The  Standard  Edition  of  the  Complete  Psychological  Works 
of  Sigmund  Freud,  translated  and  edited  by  James  Strachey.  Re¬ 
printed  by  permission  of  Liveright  Publishing  Corporation,  Sig¬ 
mund  Freud  Copyrights,  Ltd.,  The  Institute  of  Psychoanalysis, 
and  The  Hogarth  Press. 

New  Directions  Publishing  Corporation  and  the  Estate  of 
Tennessee  Williams:  Two  scenes  from  Summer  and  Smoke  by 
Tennessee  Williams.  Copyright  1948  by  Tennessee  Williams.  Re¬ 
printed  by  permission  of  New  Directions  Publishing  Corpora¬ 
tion  and  the  Estate  of  Tennessee  Williams. 

Riverrun  Press,  Inc.:  A  scene  from  Spring  Awakening  by  Fred 
Wedekind,  translated  by  Tom  Osborn.  Copyright  ©  1969  by 
Tom  Osborn.  Reprinted  by  permission  of  Riverrun  Press,  Inc., 
New  York. 

Viking  Penguin,  Inc.,  and  International  Creative  Management: 
Excerpt  from  the  Introduction  to  The  Collected  Plays  of  Arthur 
Miller,  Vol.  1,  by  Arthur  Miller.  Copyright  ©  1957  by  Arthur 
Miller.  Copyright  renewed  1985  by  Arthur  Miller.  Reprinted  by 
permission  of  Viking  Penguin,  Inc.,  and  International  Creative 
Management. 

Meade  Roberts:  'A  scene  from  A  Palm  Tree  in  a  Rose  Garden  by 
Meade  Roberts  is  reprinted  by  permission  of  the  author.  Copy¬ 
right  ©  1957  by  Meade  Roberts. 

'  At' 

The  Estate  of  Edgar  Lee  Masters:  Excerpts  from  the  poems  “Ida 
Frickey,”  “Dr.  Siegfried  Iseman,”  “Hannah  Armstrong,” 
“Harry  Williams,”  “Elsa  Weitman,”  “Julia  Miller,”  and  “A.D. 
Blood”  from  Spoon  River  Anthology  by  Edgar  Lee  Masters  are 
reprinted  by  permission  of  the  author’s  widow.  Copyright  1915, 
1916,  1942,  1944  by  Edgar  Lee  Masters. 


About  the  Authors 


SANFORD  MEISNER 

As  head  of  the  acting  department  of  The  Neighborhood  Play- 
house  for  forty  years,  Sanford  Meisner  is  considered  one  of  the 
greatest  acting  teachers  of  our  time.  As  a  founding  member  of 
The  Group  Theatre,  Mr.  Meisner  also  acted  in  many  of  its  stage 
productions,  including  Awake  and  Sing!,  Paradise  Lost,  An  American 
Tragedy,  Golden  Boy  and  Crime' and  Punishment.  Some  of  the  thou¬ 
sands  of  actors  he  has  taught  in  his  classes  at  The  Playhouse 
include,  among  others,  Elizabeth  Ashley,  Barbara  Baxley,  James 
Broderick,  James  Caan,  Keir  Duilea,  Robert  Duvall,  Lee  Grant, 
Lome  Green,  Tammy  Grimes,  Anne  Jackson,  Diane  Keaton, 
Louise  Lasser,  Darren  McGavin,  Steve  McQueen,  Gregory  Peck, 
Suzanne  Pleshette,  Tony  Randall,  Jo  Van  Fleet,  Jon  Voight,  Eli 
Wallach  and  Joanne  Woodward. 


DENNIS  LONGWELL 

After  earning  a  degree  in  philosophy  from  Yale,  Dennis  Long- 
well  studied  acting  with  Sanford  Meisner  in  the  1960s.  He  has 
also  worked  as  an  actor,  teacher  and  museum  curator!  His  mono¬ 
graph,  STEICHEN:  The  Master  Prints,  1895-1914,  published  by 
the  Museum  of  Modern  Art  in  1978,  is  the  definitive  book  on  the 
early  photographs  of  Edward  Steichen.  Mr.  Longwell  lives  in 
Sag  Harbor,  New  York,  with  his  wife  and  two  children,  and  is 
currently  writing  a  biography  of  the  American  industrialist 
George  Eastman. 


AVAILABLE  FROM  VINTAGE  BOOK’S 


:  PLAYS  FOR  ACTRESSES 

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New  1 0-Minute  Plays 
edited  by  Eric  Lane  and  Nina  Shengold 

A  ten-minute  play  is  a  streak  of  theatrical  lighting.  It  doesn’t 
last  long,  but  its  power  can  stand  your  hair  on  end.  This  splen¬ 
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1-800-793-2665  (credit  cards  only).